One Year Later, Filipinos Still in Crisis Under Aquino– BAYAN-USA

Press Statement
July 25, 2011

Reference: Bernadette Ellorin, Chairperson, BAYAN-USA, email: chair@bayanusa.org

One Year Later, Filipinos Still in Crisis Under Aquino– BAYAN-USA

Filipino-Americans, under the banner of BAYAN-USA, are taking part in actions across the US and in Manila during the scheduled State of the Nation Address (SONA) in the Philippines to register strong condemnation and disappointment over the failure of the administration of Philippine President Benigno Simeon “P-Noy” Aquino III to facilitate significant changes to improve the lives of the burdened Filipino people after one year in office.

Citing continuing subservience to foreign dictates and a worsened economic situation as measures of the Aquino’s failure to deliver upon promises made during the election and during last year’s SONA, BAYAN-USA and its allies in the US remain adamantly unconvinced that the administration is genuinely for change.

Shameless US Puppetry

At the heart of Aquino’s failure is unrelenting loyalty and puppetry to US foreign policy.

Within his first year, Aquino has willingly allowed the US to use the Philippines as its puppet state to take advantage of the regional territorial dispute over the Spratly Islands and provoke profit-making military aggression in Asia, and particularly against China.

As war and arms production has become the most profitable industry for the US ruling elite, the US government has in turn been able to rely strongly on the compliant Aquino administration to continue with a sugar-coated version of Arroyo’s deadly Operation Plan Bantay Laya by implementing Operation Plan Bayanihan, per the US State Department’s Counter-Insurgency Guide (US COIN). The objective of this counterinsurgency program is the same as it was for Arroyo’s administration and as utilized by repressive regimes worldwide: to suppress dissent and eliminate opposition using a combination of deceptive and increasingly violent tactics. The end result is the protection of imperialist economic and political interests at the expense of human lives.

The Poor Get Poorer Under Aquino

Under the thumb of US foreign dictates, Aquino has further pushed a neoliberal economic framework that has made life more miserable for the majority of the Filipino people. Landlord families, such as Aquino’s, remain in control of the country’s natural resources and push for privatization. Liberalization continues to hike up the prices of basic commodities such as food, gas, and water out of the reach of Filipino families. Contractualization hurts workers by decreasing wages, sowing job insecurity, and busting unions. Under Aquino, there are over 11 million unemployed Filipinos in the country with virtually zero job growth.

Privatization schemes such as the so-called Public-Private Partnership (PPP) not only serve to bulk up the pockets of wealthy and powerful multi-national corporate investors at the expense of ordinary Filipino citizens and workers. They also widen the gap between the few Filipino families that control the majority of the country’s wealth and political power and the burdened majority who must pay from their own pockets for the risks of private investors. It is the impoverished majority who suffer the most from the Philippine state’s abandonment of its public responsibilities.

Filipinos are left with no choice but to seek opportunities abroad, like in the United States. But in these desperate economic times, many Filipino workers fall prey to human trafficking schemes to the US.

Philippine Government: #1 Human Trafficker

The cases of the Sentosa 27 healthworkers, the Florida 15 hotel workers, and hundreds more similar cases of Filipinos duped into coming to the US under the auspices that they would have contract work waiting for them only to have their money taken, passports confiscated, and be left by their recruiters to fend for themselves as undocumented migrants are another clear measure of the Philippine government’s failure to address the country’s economic woes.

In addition, the Aquino government continues Arroyo’s non-accountability to overseas Filipino workers in distress by not providing adequate social services and protection from abuse, maltreatment, and exploitation abroad.

Last Names Do Not a Great Leader Make

Though he was able to capitalize on his last name and the dirty record of his predecessor to win the election, it is clear that none of these things actually translated into making Aquino a great leader or any improvement to the state of the Philippine nation.

Like Obama, Aquino has proven that he is not much different than his predecessor, particularly with his human rights record. In one year of the Aquino presidency, 45 activists have been slain in politically-motivated killings, 5 have been victims of forced disappearance and over 300 political prisoners remain behind bars. The perpetrators of the 1,206 extra-judicial killings, more than 300 forced disappearances, and over 1,000 cases of torture committed under the previous administration of President Gloria Arroyo remain at-large, including those guilty of abducting and torturing renowned Filipina American poet, artist, and BAYAN USA member Melissa Roxas.

As Aquino delivers his formal State of the Nation Address (SONA) to the Philippine Congress today, Filipino-Americans will be amongst those who refused to be deceived and who understand that real change can only come from ordinary people in collective struggle, not from individual politicians with famous last names. ###

BAYAN-USA is an alliance of 14 progressive Filipino organizations in the U.S. representing youth, students, women, workers, artists, and human rights advocates. As the oldest and largest overseas chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN-Philippines), BAYAN-USA serves as an information bureau for the national democratic movement of the Philippines and as a campaign center for anti-imperialist Filipinos in the U.S. For more information, visit www.bayanusa.org

Filipinas Denounce Melissa Roxas Resolution by Commission on Human Rights

Click here to sign the Open Community Letter for Melissa Roxas.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 1, 2011

Filipinas Denounce Melissa Roxas Resolution by Commission on Human Rights

Reference:  Irma Bajar, Chairperson,  Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment ; fire.nyc@gmail.com

Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment denounces the resolution set forth by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) granting the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) impunity in Melissa Roxas’ abduction and torture.  This disappointing verdict neither acknowledges the suffering and trauma Roxas has experienced as a survivor, nor does it bring justice to the thousands of others who have fallen victim to human rights violations in the Philippines.  This glaring injustice should compel the Filipino people to become more critical of the CHR, and its sole duty to protect human rights.

This CHR resolution enables the Philippine government and Philippine military forces to continue to commit egregious human rights violations, at the cost of innocent lives in the Philippines.  Despite half a million Filipinos who are known to be victims of torture, intimidation and harassment tactics, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings, the Philippine government has yet to admit its role as the main perpetrator of violence in the lives of the Filipino people. Under the guise of counter-insurgency programs like Oplan Bantay Laya and continued through Oplan Bayanihan, the life of every Filipino civilian is threatened daily.

As Filipina women living in the United States, we must applaud Roxas’ bravery in coming forward, at great risk to her life, and sharing her story as a survivor of torture.  Since her abduction on May 19th, 2009, Roxas has committed herself as a community organizer, sharing her story as a torture survivor across the United States, and raising awareness on the rampant human rights violations in the Philippines.  This CHR resolution is not only an insult to Melissa’s traumatic experiences, but to all women survivors who have been silenced, and all people robbed of their human rights.  Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment stands by Melissa Roxas until justice is served by holding her AFP captors accountable for her disappearance and torture.

JUSTICE FOR MELISSA!

JUSTICE FOR ALL VICTIMS OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS!

STOP THE KILLINGS!

SURFACE ALL DESAPARECIDOS!

Click here to sign the Open Community Letter.

Read Melissa’s Personal Statement here.

Where has all the RICE gone?

Where has all the RICE gone?
Understanding the Rice Crisis

by Berna Ellorin

Either the Arroyo government is in deep denial, or engaged in a massive cover up when it claims there is no rice crisis in the Philippines. If this were true, why are our families back home telling us otherwise? Why are more and more Filipino-Americans sending home smaller bags of rice in their balikbayan boxes? Why, in a country known for its picturesque rice terraces, is there all of a sudden not enough rice for the domestic population of the Philippines?

Once a top rice-producing country, the Philippines is now the world’s top importer of rice. As the tables have drastically turned, more and more Filipinos and even overseas Filipinos are being hit hard by the global food crisis. Rice prices rose sharply in March and April 2008 after many exporting countries, including Brazil, Egypt, India, Vietnam and top exporter Thailand, announced that they were restricting exports to ensure domestic supplies.

The first step in understanding the global food crisis is understanding the framework of how global trade currently works. Trade policies, especially related to developing countries such as the Philippines with largely poor populations, are dictated by multi-lateral agreements between nations such as the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). What is striking about these foreign trade agreements (FTAs) is the inclusion of steep uneven and unequal considerations between the needs of developed countries such as the United States and countries in Europe, and the role of developing countries such as the Philippines with a largely agricultural-based economy.

Because needs of consumers in the First World are often given higher consideration, the structural agricultural policies for many countries are molded to fit these needs. As a result, many agricultural lands are forced into conversion for export. This is evident in the Philippines, where 90% of the population are farmers living off and tilling converted lands. Without the consideration of national sovereignty in its own agricultural production, the Philippine government keeps exporting its agricultural goods and ignoring the domestic population’s needs.

This same situation is now intensifying in other rice exporting countries near the Philippines. In fact, the governments of Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam are already taking government measures to limit the exportation of rice to feed their domestic populations. Because the majority of the world’s rice comes from these regions, and with the declining value of the US dollar, the US price of rice has also gone up. Now packaged rice in US supermarkets are not only considerably more expensive, but they are also smaller packages.

Just imagine how the souring price of rice, the staple food of the Philippines, leaves this basic commodity as inaccessible to the majority of the population, and what EXACTLY has been the Arroyo government’s response? The answer bears resemblance to the handling of the ZTE-NBN scandal– using the disadvantage of the Filipino poor to make more money for corrupt politicians with deep pockets.

The price of rice has long been artificially high as a result of the rice cartel operation plus expensive inputs resulting from transnational corporate agri-business monopoly dictates of global trade policies. The role of the government sector in the rice marketing structure is primarily expressed through the operations of the National Food Authority (NFA). The NFA undertakes grains procurement and distribution in order to have an impact on supply. It also maintains a buffer stock to enable government to intervene in times of supply and price fluctuations.

There has been very limited intervention from the public sector in alleviating the pain of the rice crisis in the Philippines. The NFA only supplies 12% of the domestic rice market, at most, while the vast majority are imported from other countries. It is estimated that private merchants handle around 95% of domestic production. Although rice merchants are important contributors to the viability of rural and urban economies, many in the past were engaged in rice cartel operations that were responsible for controlling the flow and distribution of rice and subsequently fixing its price.In addition, the prices of other basic commodities critical to agricultural production, such as fertilizer and oil, are also souring up, out-of-reach for farmers.

This has deeply stagnated the local production of rice considerably in the Philippines. In fact, 75% of rice farmers produce less than 4 MT/ha., while the standard to sustain food supply security is at least 5.4 MT/ha, illustrating low productivity and hurting the Filipino people even more. Rice production has remained on subsistence level, landlord-dominated, and lacking in government support. Because of these basic crisis features, rice farmers are one of the poorest sectors of the rural economy.

Because feudal and semi-feudal production relations predominate in the Philippines, the operation of private merchants sometimes dictate the movement of price both in the farm level and in the retail level such as in the case of rice. But this tendency arises only to the extent that inadequate public spending to help farmers gain access to the markets through roads and credit is inadequate. Also, the costs of marketing are increased with the length and complexity of the marketing chain.

At this current rate, with no plans of government’s economic intervention by way of comprehensive and genuine land reform (towards a sovereign perspective and handling of Philippine soil) or national industrialization to modernize basic farming, the Philippines remains in a long-term or permanent food crisis and in deep food insecurity.

And what about the role of the rice cartel that controls the price of rice? For starters, the Arroyo family owns one of the largest rice cartels operating in the Philippines today. Because of this, the Arroyo family is responsible largely in part for the high retail price of rice. They are literally making more money off of the desperation and hunger of Filipinos everywhere!

What needs to be done to stop the rice crisis? For the long term, we need to get to the root of the problem and shift the Philippines from a country in crisis to a country with a self-sufficient economy, independent of the dictates of uneven and unfair global trade policies. This will take a considerable change in our national leadership to make happen and more policy input from those on the ground in the agricultural sector. There also needs to be a considerable national economic investment in modernizing farming technology in the Philippines to increase rice production levels.

In the short term, we need to continue to demand government’s immediate intervention in the control of the price of rice and an end to the corrupted rice cartel system. There should also be an emergency fund set up to assist rice farmers with the increasing cost of production as well as a suspension of all forced land and crop conversion. ###

Other events this weekend!

YEHEY! Cultural Show
Lourdes Filipino Restaurant
Party – Benefit
Friday, May 30, 2008
Time: 6:00pm – 10:00pm
58-02 37th avenue
Woodside, NY
The Philippine Forum Youth or the young educators for health and empowerment of the youth, aims to enhance the leadership capabilities and artistic talents of high school and college Filipino youths through leadership training, sports, workshops and cultural festivals.
It strives to make Filipinos and people of Filipino heritage aware of their roots, conscious of their rights and their responsibilities as members of both the American and Philippine societies and as citizens of the global community.

After a series of retreats and workshops, developing them as leaders in their own way, the Philippine forum youth decides to present something to the community and their families and so comes the cultural show….

tickets are available for $20 per persons
Please RSVP to Michelle (917)213-7720

========================================
CRICES
Saturday, May 31, 2008 at 7:00pm
BarYo! Restaurant
65-14 Roosevelt Avenue
Woodside, NY

A music benefit to raise awareness of the so-called “rice crisis” in the Philippines.
$10 Entrance

Performers:
Kiwi – www.myspace.com/kiwi
Deep Foundation – www.myspace.com/deepfoundation
Taospuso
Miss Josephine – www.myspace.com/maryjosephinemusic
Rockin’ Forum
w/ DJ Boo
and much more!

This show is also dedicated as a tribute to the late Congressional Rep. Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran who passed away on May 20,2008.

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