Fil-Am Youth Call Arroyo on Her Sham Prayers for Peace in Mindanao

News Release
November 13, 2008

During November 12th's protest against GMA, youth from New Jersey and New York held a prayer service in the Filipino Community of Woodside to pray for genuine peace in Mindanao.

During November 12th's protest against GMA, youth from New Jersey and New York held a prayer service in the Filipino Community of Woodside to pray for genuine peace in Mindanao.


Contact: Cris Hilo, Bayan NE Coordinator – bayannortheast@gmail.com

Fil-Am Youth Call Arroyo on Her Sham Prayers for Peace in Mindanao

Queens, NY- On November 12, over 50 Fil-ams gathered in the bitter cold streets of New York City to pray for genuine peace in Mindanao.Several organizations, including Anakbayan NY/NJ, FiRE (Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment), and NYCHRP (New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines) from BAYAN USA openly criticized the Arroyo regime for her backward steps towards peace. At the same time of the vigil, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) was at the United Nations attending an interfaith forum for states that are supposedly under “religious conflict”.

Although GMA attended to obviously put forth this notion that she prayed for peace in Mindanao, specifically between the Islamic secessionist movement and the Christians, who are engaged in an armed conflict that threatens peace thein Mindanao. Her actions to continue efforts of US and Philippine militarization of Mindanao, which is the root of the armed conflict and the biggest obstruction of peace in Mindanao, goes against any route towards peace.

During the peaceful vigil, BAYAN USA, clarified who and what are the real obstructions to a lasting peace in Mindanao. Anakbayan NJ member Kat Dy, originally from Davao,Mindanao stated, “While I was living in Mindanao, Muslims, Christians, and non-Christians lived and worked together peacefully. If GMA wanted genuine peace in Mindanao, she should remove the U.S. and Philippine troops from Mindanao. If she wants to really help relieve poverty in the Philippines, she must reduce her military funding and increase the funds towards social funds especially education and healthcare.”

In 2001, the Bush-Arroyo pact sent US troops to Southern Mindanao to train Philippine military to fight terrorism, particularly the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).In 2008, not a single member of the Abu Sayyaf Group has been captured and convicted. However, the intensification of militarization of both Philippine and US troops conducting military exercises remains.

This militarization is the cause of massive, widescale displacement of communities. Today, over 500,000 Mindanaoans have been displaced from their lands and require immediate relief.

The movement from the MILF to cede from the Philippine Republic is not a terrorist operation. Today, it is more of a defense operation for their ancestral domain in Mindanao. One must also remember that this domain houses the largest gold, oil, and other natural deposits in the entire Philippines, and US government control of these reserves is important to the US and Philippine governments. This is the reason for intensification of US militarization in Mindanao- control over vast natural resources for plunder, not fighting terrorism.

Berna Ellorin from Bayan USA concluded during the service, “For a just and lasting peace in Mindanao, we look not on the so-called “Muslim-Christian” conflict as the obstruction of peace, but the neoliberal dictates of the US government and subservience of the Arroyo regime to those dictates. Today, we pray that Arroyo, now hugely unpopular, step down, the ancestral domain of the Bangsamoro people must be respected, and that the US government withdraws its military presence in Mindanao for peace to reign.”

BAYAN-USA, an alliance of progressive Filipino groups in the U.S. representing organizations of students, scholars, women, workers, and youth. To learn more about this overseas chapter of BAYAN, and the other organizations in our alliance, please visit http://bayanusa.org/

A New Prez but Nothing New for RP-US Politics

Today marks a historic day for American history. We’ll elect a new president and lots of hope for change hinges on who will win today’s race to the presidential seat. The excitement and anxiety is thick in the air in New York City. Everyone from sidewalk to subway to office cubicle to classroom is talking about it, the noise building a political cacophony that can no longer be ignored. Either by the powers that be or the peoples that be. The political stir in the US right now is rare because we’re on the brink of change.

And the fact is, the whole world is watching.

Even before the new American president is elected, before the administrations shift, FiRE would like to remind all of you that with a new president, some things change and some things don’t.

New US leader should keep troops in RP
By Jim Gomez
Associated Press
First Posted 17:09:00 11/04/2008
MANILA, Philippines—The next US president should keep American counterterrorism troops in the southern Philippines, where they have helped prevent the emergence of a key base for al-Qaeda-linked militants, a military official said Tuesday.

The Philippine government expects no major changes in its close ties with Washington, whoever wins the US elections. But some Filipino analysts have speculated that a victory by Democrat Barack Obama could lead to a reduction or even a withdrawal of US troops from Mindanao, where the Philippine military has been battling a decades-long Islamist insurgency.

Major General Benjamin Dolorfino, who heads the 8,000-strong Philippine Marines at the front line of counterterrorism efforts in Mindanao, said extremists linked to the Abu Sayyaf, which is blacklisted as a terrorist group by Washington, still pose a threat despite US-backed offensives that have crippled the militants and destroyed their strongholds.

The US military’s noncombat assistance, particularly the rapid provision of tactical intelligence, has helped prevent terror attacks and training and has neutralized Abu Sayyaf leaders and their Indonesian cohorts from the regional militant group Jemaah Islamiyah, Dolorfino said.

“This partnership has been crucial in containing transnational terrorist threats,” Dolorfino told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

“It has been good for us, for other nations and for the United States,” he said.

He said the counterterrorism assistance should continue under the next US presidency.

The left-wing group Bayan, however, said it would urge Obama to immediately withdraw American troops from Mindanao if he wins, claiming their presence violates the Philippine Constitution. The group also has called for scrapping a pact that has authorized the US military presence since 2002.

The Philippine government has credited US military training and assistance for helping local troops weaken the Abu Sayyaf, which is estimated to have more than 300 fighters, down from more than 1,000 in early 2000, the military says.

Political analyst Earl Parreno said a victory by Republican John McCain most likely would lead to a continuation of the US military presence in Mindanao and Washington’s aggressive global counterterrorism campaign.

But a win by Obama, who has opposed the Iraq invasion of 2003 and called for a complete withdrawal of US troops there in 16 months, could alter the US-led global war on terrorism, he said. In the southern Philippines, the US presence could be scaled down or could end under Obama, he said.

“McCain, an ex-soldier, will likely support a continuation of an iron-hand diplomacy,” he said. “Obama will continue the war on terrorism, but there may be a shift in character — less troop visibility and more intelligence-driven operations.”

Presidential political adviser Gabriel Claudio said the government expects no major changes in its relations with Washington.

“Regardless of the election’s results, I believe the strategic importance of the Philippines in America’s geopolitics … will remain constant and would not be lost to the next US administration,” he said.

Rice Crisis in the NYT

ttp://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/09/business/worldbusiness/09food.html?_r=2&hp=&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&adxnnlx=1210317565-rKhT0oVD5erkQrGyImAsSA

May 9, 2008

High Prices for Staple Foods Dip, but Volatile Markets Persist

HONG KONG — After months of startling increases, the prices of rice, wheat, soybeans and several other foods have come down recently, a development that could ease some of the panic in global food markets.

Prices remain volatile and remarkably high by historical standards, and few agricultural experts expect the days of inexpensive food to return soon. There is no sign of a drop steep enough to make food affordable again for the hundreds of millions of people in poor countries who are struggling to maintain adequate diets.

Still, any price decline is welcome news for many countries, particularly those heavily dependent on imported rice.

The spot price of rice from Thailand has dropped by close to 20 percent in the last two weeks after nearly tripling in the first four months of this year. Rice prices on American markets have been rising this week, including a sharp increase on Thursday, but are still down 10 percent from their high on April 23.

Similarly, despite jumps in the last few days, contracts for future delivery of American wheat and soybeans are down markedly from their highs in March — by 34 percent in the case of wheat. The prices of canola oil and palm oil, two alternatives to soybean oil for cooking and food processing, are also down.

“The floodwaters have stopped rising, but the problem isn’t over yet, and prices could stay at this level a few years,” said Nicholas W. Minot, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington.

Agricultural markets remain deeply unsettled. For several years, farmers have been unable to catch up with rapidly rising demand for food and animal feed, and the world’s grain stocks have been falling. The situation peaked in recent months as prices spiraled out of control, setting off hoarding in many countries and food riots in at least 19 of them.

United States corn prices hit yet another record on Thursday, just above $6.30 a bushel, amid fears that rainy weather in the Midwest would suppress yields this summer. Most corn is not used for food; it is used for animal feed and, increasingly, for ethanol production. The high corn prices of recent years have prompted farmers to plant more of it, displacing crops like wheat and contributing to higher food prices.

Experts say that shoppers may not see much benefit from the recent price dips. Many retailers and wholesalers around the world had not yet passed the full extent of this spring’s price increases along to consumers.

The spot price of a heavily traded good grade of rice exported by Thailand peaked at $1,100 a ton in late April, with a few purchases at even higher prices by buyers demanding huge quantities. But traders said Thursday that the going price was $880 to $920 a ton, although buyers of large quantities could still expect to pay more.

“I don’t expect a crash in prices, but I think there is a correction,” said Ben Savage, the managing director for rice at Jackson Son & Company in London, one of the world’s oldest rice brokerage firms.

Rice is perhaps the world’s most politically fragile crop. Nearly half the world’s population depends on it as a staple food. An even higher proportion of the world’s poor people depend on it, as imported rice has displaced local crops in cities across Africa and the Caribbean over the last decade, even as the crop retained its primacy in Asia.

The latest rice prices are still far above the price of $385 a ton prevailing in mid-January, and even further above the 2003 price of $200 a ton. Even with the slight decline in prices, the cost of rice remains high enough to put considerable strain on poor families in countries like the Philippines and Nigeria, the world’s two largest rice importers.

“The market has been a buyer’s market for 40 years and recently it switched to being a seller’s market, particularly in the last few months,” said Vichai Sriprasert, president of the Riceland International Company in Bangkok.

While rice prices have fallen in recent days, global rice consumption remains greater than production, he said, adding, “It will remain a seller’s market for years to come.”

The recent cyclone in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, heavily damaged rice fields there and sent rice prices soaring in the country. But rice traders said this had not pushed up world prices because Myanmar’s exports were tiny and the country and aid agencies lacked the money to buy large quantities of rice on world markets.

“I don’t think the Burmese cyclone is having any significant effect,” said Korbsook Iamsuri, the secretary general of the Rice Exporters Association in Thailand.

Experts cite a range of reasons for the dip in commodity prices. Traders said that some speculative money might be moving out of agricultural commodities, putting downward pressure on prices. Additionally, it is clear the price spikes of recent months suppressed some demand. And the increases encouraged farmers to plant more crops on land that is marginally fertile and not worth farming when prices are lower.

Moreover, rice exporters, after clinging to inventories as prices climbed rapidly, have begun to sell. Many Thai rice exporters bet on continued increases in rice prices by building up large inventories with borrowed money, but they are now struggling to meet interest payments on their loans, said Mr. Vichai, the president emeritus of the Rice Exporters Association in Thailand.

“Now that every one of us has overstocked ourselves, then when there’s a sign that prices have overshot, we all get excited” and become more willing to sell, he said.

The government of the Philippines, the largest rice importer, has played a role in the turnaround in market sentiment. Receiving only one bid for a rice tender on Monday, the government decided it had enough rice in its stockpiles and would wait until prices fell before buying more.

“We currently have a sufficient supply of rice and are only looking to import supplies to further strengthen our reserves,” the agriculture secretary, Arthur Yap, said in a written reply to questions. “Given this flexibility, we will only purchase from the international market when the price and other terms are suitable, and in this instance, we decided to defer the process and to wait for a better price.”

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Philippines feels the pinch of dollar’s decline

Philippines feels the pinch of dollar’s decline

Many here rely on remittances from overseas relatives, and the dollar’s slide against the peso has forced some people to cut back, with private education the first to go.
By Bruce Wallace, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
May 5, 2008
MANILA — The U.S. dollar has always been king down by the docks on Manila Bay, where Philippine seamen congregate to swap stories and look for work.

On the swarm of recruitment booths outside the Luneta Seafarers Center, photocopied fliers advertise jobs that pay in dollars: $2,300 a month for a welder on a natural gas tanker or $3,900 for a second mate on a passenger liner.

But lately, the dollar has lost some of its luster with the highly sought-after crews.

“Almost everyone is asking for more money because they know the foreign exchange is not to their advantage,” says James Estrada, a marine engineer who recruits crews for 300 ships operated by Wallem Maritime Services.

“You get fewer pesos for your dollar. So we’ve had to make salaries higher.”

The dollar’s slide against other currencies is rippling across the globe: It is keeping more American tourists at home, raising prices on imports and creating bargains for foreigners swooping down on U.S. assets.

It is also causing financial pain in less obvious places, such as the Philippines, where millions of people have come to rely on the purchasing power of dollars sent home by relatives working abroad.

An estimated 10 million overseas Philippine workers provide money for an even greater multiple of dependents at home. A year ago, one dollar bought 49 Philippine pesos. Today, it brings about 41 pesos, a sharp depreciation that has coincided with rising commodity prices to create an economic crunch in this archipelago of 92 million.

“The biggest losers are overseas workers because the peso value of their remittances to their families has shrunk,” says Benjamin Diokno, an economics professor at the University of the Philippines and a policy advisor to the previous Philippine government.

Filipinos working overseas have been a pillar of the Philippines’ economy since the 1970s, when some of the country’s hardest-working and best-educated people left to take up service jobs in other parts of Asia, in the West and the Persian Gulf states: nurses and domestic helpers, hospital technicians, sailors and nightclub entertainers.

The money they send home each year accounts for more than 12% of the Philippine economy, often sustaining several extended-family members, some of whom don’t work. For years, these dollars have paid private school fees for younger siblings and bought small condos for aging parents.

“We used to pity people who didn’t have someone in their family making dollars,” says Estrella Gonzaga, 55, sitting in her small but comfortable Manila house that is plastered with family photos, including a high school graduation picture of her daughter Hasmine, a nurse who moved to the Bronx nine years ago.

Over the years, money sent by their daughter allowed Gonzaga and her husband, Jose, 62, a retired X-ray technician who spent five years abroad himself in the 1980s, to build a nest egg of dollars in their Manila bank account. But in December, needing an operation for a herniated disk and with no health insurance to cover the $3,700 cost, Gonzaga had to ask her daughter for more money. And she underestimated the gap between the dollar and the peso.

“She sent me money, but I had to go back and ask for more,” she says. “The dollar just seems to be falling so fast.”

Economists say the drop so far has merely crimped lifestyles, not crippled the economy. The dollar’s decline is only part of a mix of wider economic problems the Philippines faces, from an ominous decline in salaried jobs to sharply rising food and gasoline prices. Analysts also note that those overseas workers living in Europe and paid in the rising euro are doing better than ever. The issue is not a strong peso, they point out. It is a weak dollar.

But many here worry that the subtle effects of dollar weakness today may have a deeper impact down the road. They point in particular to families that can no longer count on dollar remittances to fund private education for children and siblings.

“The patterns of expenditure show that a big part of the money sent home by overseas workers is spent on private education, and this was a significant investment in human capital,” Diokno says. “Now I’m talking to private school owners who say their enrollments are off for next year because families are pulling children out and putting them into the public system.”

Manila’s public schools report being swamped with new admissions. Some of the increase is attributable to the rising Philippine birthrate. But Jose Gonzaga, the retired X-ray technician, says he knows several people who can no longer afford to send their children to private school because of the dollar’s drop.

Not every Filipino is obsessed with the exchange rate, says Pedrito Villaflor, a marine engineer who has shifted careers and is writing a master’s thesis on why Philippine seamen are so widely coveted by shipping companies.

“Seamen are loyal to the U.S. dollar,” he says, contesting the recruiter’s claims of demands for higher salaries. “Most of them don’t understand exchange rates. As long as they are getting paid in U.S. dollars, they are happy.”

Others are less sanguine. The Gonzagas are loath to touch the money in their dollar account, stocked over the years with irregular contributions from their daughter. “When we need it badly, I take a little bit out,” Estrella Gonzaga says. “But the rate is too low.

“We’re still hoping that if we leave it there for a while, the dollar will go back up.”

bruce.wallace@latimes.com

Rice Crisis Makes Wage Hike More Urgent

Rice Crisis Makes Wage Hike More Urgent

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
LABOR WATCH
Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 12, April 27-May 3, 2008

Children begging in the streets at night
Knocking on cars till the morning light
People standing in line for a kilo of rice
Welcome to the Dark Ages, the era of lies…

— The Jerks, “Rage”

For Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May 1st Movement) chairman Elmer “Bong” Labog, the rice crisis presently plaguing the country makes a legislated P125 nationwide, across-the-board wage increase all the more urgent. The rice crisis, he said, worsens workers’ already miserable conditions.

From what used to be as low as P26/kilogram, rice prices have shot up to as high as P40/kilo in the last few weeks. The National Food Authority (NFA) continues to sell rice at P18.25/kilo, but only in limited quantities. Long queues of people waiting to get a kilo each of NFA rice have become a common sight.

“Workers, especially those living in urban poor communities, have long been trying to survive on lugaw (gruel),” Labog said in an interview with Bulatlat. “This means hunger will worsen because they can no longer afford rice at its present high prices. It is rice of a very low quality that is being sold by the NFA (National Food Authority) at P18.25, and the average worker struggles to feed a family of six daily with only a kilo of rice. The problem of workers is that their wages are not enough to buy the staple food.”

This problem, Labog says, is worsened by the present rice crisis.

Wage increase: 1999-present

The demand for a P125 wage increase was first put forward by the KMU – then under the leadership of Crispin Beltran – in 1999, nearly a year into the presidency of Joseph Estrada who won the 1998 presidential elections on an avowed populist “platform.”

Back then, the family living wage for a family of six – the average Filipino family – was P379.51 ($9.71 at the year’s average exchange rate of $1:P39.09) a day on a national average, based on data from the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC). In contrast, the daily minimum wage stood at a national average of P193.67 ($4.95).

A P125 wage increase at that time would have brought the national average minimum wage to P318.67 ($8.15), or P60.84 short of the national average family living wage that year.

The Estrada administration, which ascended to power on the basis of a proclaimed love for the “Filipino masses,” never paid heed to this demand of the KMU.

Estrada was ousted in 2001 through a popular uprising that was largely anti-corruption. He was succeeded by his vice president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The demand for a P125 wage increase was among the items in the “People’s Agenda” that cause-oriented groups presented to Arroyo during her first days in office.

The required living wage for an average Filipino family was in 2001 a far cry from what it is now. That year, it stood at a national average of P445.53 ($10.89 at that year’s average exchange rate of $1:P40.89), based on data from the NWPC. The highest regional minimum wage then was in the National Capital Region (NCR), which was pegged at P250. At a national average, however, the daily minimum wage that year stood at P222.42, based on data from the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE).

Even then, a P125 across-the-board, nationwide wage increase would have been insufficient to bridge the gap between the minimum wage and the required family living wage. An additional P125 would have brought up the 2001 daily minimum wage to P347.42 – which is P98.11 short of what an average Filipino family needed to survive daily that year.

Nearly seven years after first assuming power, the Arroyo administration has yet to heed this demand of the KMU.

The national average family living wage has risen by more than P125 since 2001. Since then there have been trickles of wage increases – which were soon eaten up by runaway inflation.

Based on March 2008 data from the NWPC, the national average family living wage stands at P770 ($18.32 at the April 25 exchange rate of $1:P42.04) a day.

The highest regional minimum wage at present is P362 ($8.61) for the National Capital Region (NCR), which has a regional daily family living wage of P858 ($20.41). The region with the lowest minimum wage rate is the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), with only P200 ($4.76) even as it has a regional daily family living wage of P1,186 ($28.21).

During his three terms as representative, Beltran was able to file three bills for a legislated minimum wage hike. He first filed a wage-hike bill in 2001, as a representative of Bayan Muna (People First). It never did go beyond first reading.

The second, HB 345 – which Beltran filed as Anakpawis representative – was approved at the plenary of the House of Representatives by a vote of 151-0 on Dec. 20, 2006. Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada – son of Arroyo’s predecessor – was sponsoring a counterpart bill at that time.

The next month, however, HB 345 was recalled upon a motion filed by Cavite Rep. Crispin Remulla, purportedly to allow further debate and deliberation. Malacañang supported this move of the House of Representatives, and the younger Estrada deferred sponsorship of the counterpart Senate bill.

If HB 345 had not been recalled and its counterpart Senate bill was also passed, the national average minimum wage would have gone up to P408.67 ($7.96 at that year’s average exchange rate of $1:P51.31). But that would have still been short of what the family of six would need on a national average to survive daily, based on 2006 data from the NWPC.

“It is but just that there be an immediate wage increase,” Labog said. “This should be done at the soonest possible.”

Rice crisis

Even without more recent figures from the NWPC, it is easy to conclude that the cost of living has risen sharply since last March, given that rice prices have jumped in the last few weeks.

The socio-economic think tank IBON Foundation has blamed the present rice crisis on the government’s adherence to neoliberal economic policies, which the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (IMF-WB) – two institutions organized as a result of a conference in Bretton Woods by the victors of World War II, thus the moniker Bretton Woods Twins – are imposing on Third World countries.

In particular, IBON cites the enactment of the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA) in 1997 as having worsened the country’s dependence on rice imports and thus a major contributor to the country’s present rice crisis.

As of 2006, the country’s rice imports have reached 1.7 million metric tons – more than twice the 722,000 metric tons recorded for 1997.

Meanwhile, NFA rice procurement has dropped from 7.95 percent of total palay production in 1977-1983 to only 0.05 percent in 2000-2006. The NFA’s original mandate is to procure at least 12 percent of palay production. Rice procurement is increasingly being dominated by traders.

Urgency

“It is but just that there be an immediate wage increase,” Labog said. “This should be done at the soonest possible.”

Unlike in ordinary times, even some business leaders have expressed support for wage-hike demands aired by various labor groups, demonstrating the urgency of a wage increase amid the rice crisis. For instance, Makati Business Club executive director Albert Lim, interviewed recently by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, has said the wage-hike demand is something they “may support” at this time.

Labog sees this as something that is but logical, considering the nature of the times.

“They can no longer deny that workers’ wages can no longer cope with rising prices of goods and services,” Labog said. “They would be put in a very defensive position if they oppose demands for a wage increase at this point. So they have articulated positions that are not opposed to wage increases. The question is by how much they are willing to increase workers’ wages.”

“We maintain our stand for a P125 wage increase,” he also said. Bulatlat