FiRE’d UP WEDNESDAYS @ The Brecht Forum

FiRE’d UP, FiRE’s summer film series is back and this summer we’re collaborating with the Brecht Forum to bring you FiRE’d UP WEDNESDAYS! Every 3rd and 4th Wednesday in July and August at 7:30pm, FiRE and the Brecht will present a different film that features the stories and struggles of Filipinas, migrants, and workers in the Philippines and abroad, in conjunction with NAFCON’s Stop Trafficking Our People Campaign. Discussions featuring guest speakers from Tue AUdre Lorde Project, Bayan USA, Anakbayan USA, the F15, and NAFCON NE will accompany the films. See schedule of films below:

WED JUL 18: Paper Dolls (Heymann, 2006), speakers from FiRE NYC
WED JUL 25: Sister Stella L. (De Leon, 1984), speakers from BAYAN USA
WED AUG 15: * Double Feature* Migrante Documentary & Modern Heroes, Modern Slaves (Boti, 1997), speakers from F 15 and Anakbayan USA
WED AUG 22: The Learning (Diaz, 2011), speakers from NAFCON NE

451 West St (btwn Bank and Bethune) A/C/E/L to 14th St; PATH to Christopher St.
All screenings begin at 7:30pm. $6-$15 donations (no one turned away for lack of funds).*

*Proceeds benefit the awesome work of The Brecht Forum and Filipinas for RIghts and Empowerment.

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

Press Statement
July 25, 2011

Reference: Bernadette Ellorin, Chairperson, BAYAN-USA, email:

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

Filipinas in New York City March to Defend Workers Rights on May Day

May 2, 2011

Filipinas in New York City March to Defend Workers Rights on May Day

Reference: Irma Bajar, Chairperson, Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment;

New York City – On May 1, Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment joined 20,000 people at Union Square with the May 1st Coalition to march for job security, workers rights, and legalization for all. The march ended at Foley Square, where the Coalition was greeted by various unions holding a unified May 1st rally.

Today, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) still suffer from damaging work conditions, exploitation, and government neglect. As a result of unequal U.S. foreign policies, trade agreements, and the cooperation of puppet governments, the working poor in third world countries, and specifically the Philippines are forced to leave and find work elsewhere. The Labor Export Program (LEP) in the Philippines is a government system that currently forces close to 4,000 Filipinos to leave the country everyday, 70% of whom are women. Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment urge all women and their families to join the struggle against forced migration and fight for genuine comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. “We demand an end to the raids and deportation that are separating and hurting our families. We march and stand together with women, immigrants, and workers across all communities to defend the rights of workers, especially the majority of whom fall victim to exploitative situations and are deprived of their basic rights,” said Irma Bajar, Chairperson of FiRE.

The slew of neoliberal policies have resulted in the worst global economic crisis faced since the Great Depression. Workers feel the brunt of this crisis, both citizen and immigrant, and remain vulnerable to exploitation. “It’s definitely a pressing issue in the Filipino community as the majority of our people in the United States are marginalized workers. Migrant workers are caught between the Philippine government’s Labor Export Program and racist legislation like SB1070 and House Bill 87 in the US,” explained Cris Hilo, Secretary General of FiRE.

FiRE sisters march for legalization for all.

The march ending with various unions like SEIU 1199 and TWU 100, and made clear the need for workers and immigrants in the United States to collaborate and unite in these dark times. “Job security is a real issue that the media refuses to cover. Union busting, like in Wisconsin, or even locally like the Woodlawn Cemetery Workers strike, leaves all workers, both citizens and immigrants, open to attack,” said Hanalei Ramos, Vice-Chair of FiRE.

As the on-going economic crisis continues to bring hardship to working families, especially immigrant communities and women, it is vital to organize and fight for their rights as scapegoating and deportations threaten their livelihood,” said Candice Sering, FiRE member.

No Security for Those Who Safeguard Our Health: The Effects of the Economic Crisis on Queens Nurses

Maria is a Filipina registered nurse who lives in Elmhurst, Queens. As part of the 16 Days to End Gender Based Violence campaign, we interviewed Maria about the closing of St. John’s Queens Hospital as a result of the economic crisis. Below is her oral history.

St. John’s Queens Hospital in Elmhurst closed on February 23, 2009. I don’t know how many people were laid off with me. Thousands, maybe. They said it was because of bankruptcy. St. John’s was a private hospital and it started to ask the federal government for help to survive the crisis, but they didn’t receive enough. Maybe $2 million. I’m not sure. The problem for the hospital was getting reimbursements, like from Medicare and Medicaid and other insurance companies. Mostly from insurance. If the insurance did not pay the hospital, well then walang pera/there’s no money. No money to pay for supplies, like linens, and instruments like catheters. How can you give service without the supply? And there are a lot of hospitals here. The federal government can’t give money to all the hospitals. It’s like you give all the services, but it doesn’t come back the same. You don’t get paid for the services you gave.

The hospital hired consultants who traveled from all over the country, like Texas, kung saan/wherever, to come see what the problem really is. How come there is no money? Ano talaga ang problema ng organization?/What is really the organization’s problem? But think about how many figures the consultant makes. We have to pay them still and provide amenities during their stay. The consultant stays for a year, then the hospital hires a new consultant again.

The whole hospital was affected when it closed. Everyone from top to bottom, even management. We were an 1199 hospital. Now, there are some people who work there since they were 18 years old, 20 years old. That was their home base until now when they are in their 60s. When the hospital closed, the retirement age is 62. So you get financially penalized for the unexpected closure na ‘yan. Let’s say you’re 61, at gusto mo na mag-retire/and you want to retire. There is a deduction in your retirement plan.  Instead of getting 100% of your benefits, you only get some. Not unless you go to another 1199 institution. But since you’re 61, who is going to hire you? It’s not our fault na nagsara ang ospital/that the hospital closed. Some were only short of turning 62 by 4 months, but there was still reduction sa retirement benefits nila.

I don’t know what happened to them. I think the hospital gave it anyway even if they were short a few months. I think they gave the whole benefits. What I’m talking about is if you’re older. Do you really wanna start a new job at 61? Who will hire you in this job market right now? There is also a freeze in hospital worker hiring. Meron akong kilala/I know someone, she used to be a clerk at St. John’s, but now she can’t find a job. She can only volunteer at a hospital and she lives off of unemployment benefits. She’s 50-something years old. What’s nice sometimes is that 1199 gives assistance in finding a hospital. They match you to an employer hospital. Pero ang problema diyan/But the problem with that is the older people, that they were forced to retire.  What can they do?

Tapos, you’re comparing benefits. St. John’s is an 1199 institution, right, so their medical benefits is different from NYSNA (New York State Nurses Association). Ngayon, with NYSNA, if you get a prescription alone or go to the doctor, meron kang co-payment/you have to pay a co-payment. Kaya ang mga kumare ko, sabi nila, “Ipasok mo na kami sa  _________ Hospital!”/So my girlfriends said, “Get us a job at _________ Hospital!” _________ Hospital is also an 1199 hospital, so if we get jobs there, we have no co-payments. They felt the hardship of the closing in the cost of their medication. I feel it in the bills I have to pay. I have to tighten my belt. But do we have a choice? No. Noon, pagsinabi mo na ikaw ay nurse, madali ang kumuha ng trabaho. Ngayon, oh…waiting list./Back then, when you say you’re a nurse, it was really easy to get a job. But now… you’re on a waiting list.

I already had another job at _______ Hospital. Actually, I was working at three hospitals at the time of the closing. So you have to get a per diem job.  Kaya nung nagsara/So when it closed, I was just lucky that I already had that job at ________. How about yung wala/those that didn’t have a per diem job? My kumare, if I didn’t get them the job at _________, where will they get a job? How many medical personnel were laid off? How many hospitals closed prior to us? Parkway, Mary Immaculate, St. Joseph’s, St. Mary’s… The hospitals weren’t able to survive. For all the nurses laid off, how many other hospitals were left to absorb us: Elmhurst, North Shore Forest Hills, Mount Sinai Astoria, Jamaica, Flushing, New York Queens? And competition is stiff right now. Sampung nurses pupunta sa isang ospital/Ten nurses go to a hospital, and they only need two. I had a co-worker, she only had an associate’s degree for nursing. Not a bachelor’s. She got really sick, because of the stress from the hospital closing. She was 55 years old. Sabi nya/She said, “Who will hire a 55 year-old without at least a bachelor’s in nursing?” And then imagine if she did find work. Starting all over again is stressful too.

Poverty, limited job opportunities, and the Labor Export Policy in the Philippines push 3000 people out of the country in search for work abroad.  More than 50% of them are women.  In the United States, 13.5% of Filipino women are nurses and other health diagnosing and treating professionals.  Out of all Filipino women living and working in the local New York/New Jersey area, 30% of them are nurses and other health diagnosing and treating professionals.  Based on the 2000 Census, they are overrepresented in this occupation compared to the general population.  The hospital closings in New York in 2009 affect a significant population of Filipino nurses and their families locally, nationally, and in the Philippines.  Not only were jobs lost, but access to medical care was also severely cut in the working class, immigrant, and people of color neighborhood communities that faced hospital closings.  Among Filipino migrants, it is a wide belief that nursing is a viable occupational option for economic well-being. Its value is facing a shift during the economic crisis, however, when jobs, even in the United States, are becoming more and more scarce.

Members of SiGAw - GAB USA mobilize to oppose anti-immigrant legislation, May 1, 2010

The Exploitation of Migrant Filipinas and the Struggle for Justice

The Exploitation of Migrant Filipinas and the Struggle for Justice
Day 12 of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

Contact: Terrie Cervas
Vice Chair of Finance – GABRIELA USA
Coordinator for Mass Campaigns – Sisters of GABRIELA, Awaken! (SiGAw!)
(213) 537-8278

Members of SiGAw - GAB USA mobilize to oppose anti-immigrant legislation, May 1, 2010

Members of SiGAw - GAB USA mobilize to oppose anti-immigrant legislation, May 1, 2010

Imagine 2,500 Filipinos leaving the Philippines every day. A country with a population of 92 million, the Philippines has become the largest exporter of labor in the world. The United States is home to the largest group of Filipinos outside of the Philippines with four million Filipinos residing here, of which 24% are undocumented (source “Ating Kalagayan: The Social and Economic Profile of U.S. Filipinos”).

How do we explain this massive migration? The answer lies in the socio-economic conditions of the Philippines. In a country where no genuine land reform exists to allow for the peasants to survive on the land they grew up on, they leave in droves to search for employment in the cities. However, because of government policies that do not build and develop national industries, the economy can’t generate the jobs necessary to employ the thousands who graduated with college and university degrees in various fields including medicine, engineering, and teaching. Hence, they are forced to migrate abroad in search of employment.

Dependent on multi-national corporations for imports of pricey finished goods in exchange for its cheap raw materials, the trade imbalance and payment deficits keep growing. The intervention of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (IMF-WB) adds to the country’s looming debt and financial difficulties. The Marcos dictatorship created the Labor Export Program (LEP) under the guise of easing the unemployment problem, fixing the debt and trade deficits. However, until now, the LEP is just another scheme to perpetuate an unjust social system that uses Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) for their remittances, which keep the country from complete collapse. Keeping its people out of the country helps prevent social unrest from developing from within.

After being hit with a load of expensive fees from employment agencies and high interest loans while in the Philippines, OFWs are shipped out to other countries where they are vulnerable to greater abuse and exploitation due to inadequate laws favoring their employers over their basic human rights. Acts of violence in the forms of murder and rape are commonly committed against women compatriots.

Alliances such as GABRIELA USA were formed to arouse, organize, and mobilize overseas compatriots to fight for their rights and welfare and to participate in the movement for social change in the Philippines. We hold the banner of the national democratic movement in the Philippines high for all Filipinos across the globe. On the twelfth day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence
GABRIELA USA honors all migrant working women by highlighting excerpts of interviews of undocumented Filipinas in their everyday struggles. Names have been changed to protect their identities and privacy.

Interview of Nanay Beng

When I came here it was just plain. It was just my clothes. I wasn’t sure even when I come here if I would be with my husband because he was playing with someone. I asked him if he still wanted me. I think I was only carrying USD$150. That was from my two brothers. When I reached immigration, they didn’t even ask me. I came on a business B1B2 visa.

My plan was to look for greener pastures and follow my husband. We found the jobs but we’re not happy, we’re starting to file the petition with the father and then he passed away. Visa expired after 5 yrs. When my husband died and employer died, the immigration office wanted $250 to file and the sponsorship from employer. The lawyer said I could still file but I told him the employer died. It’s hard because they won’t accept you if you say you don’t have green card. They have to ask you, “are you a citizen, do you have a green card?” If they’re going to hire you illegally they’re going to fine you. It’s not acceptable to the employer. It’s really hard. That’s why Filipinos become caregivers if they don’t have papers because they don’t ask for papers.

When my mom died, I couldn’t go to the Philippines because when my husband died, I used all my money to take care of my husband’s funeral. I cried a lot and it was painful and hurting. I left behind two sons. Other family always takes care of them. Whatever I have–$20–I put money to them. I didn’t see them for 17 years. When I left the Philippines [in] 1992 the second was 5 years old. Now eldest has a child now.

Very sad about this life. I’m tired of working like this. I’m also with the agencies, but I pick the employer that pays me. Agencies pay in 2-3 weeks, depends on the case of the patient. Some agencies pay the caregivers. So every time I have my work I get money.

My responsibility is work, cook, take care of my kids, go to doctor’s appointment. Sometimes I can’t do all anymore. It’s so tiring. It’s kind of hard; the responsibility of a single mother is hard. I work hard. Sunday up to five up to Wed to five. I was given a full-time job but I gave up 2 days because children are still in school. Three days isn’t really good but I’m trying my best to adjust to this kind of life.

Financially it’s not enough. When you have a family and you’re raising children and somebody in school, you have to figure out what their needs are in school. Mostly low-income people earn $2000, [which] is really ok. But now, with three days I’m only earning $1200-1500. I came here with my papers. This is my passport. I show them all. Then it gets approved. We’re safe with the food but sometimes we’re tight because if I get $1500 the food stamp gets low. My cable was cut off.

The rental here is $800. I spoke to the owner and sometimes I pay him half and he’s ok. He doesn’t say nothing. But it’s not yet enough. I have a problem with my teeth. Health care givers don’t have insurance. Other caregivers go to free clinic.

For now it makes me worried. But what can I do? I don’t know what to do. I just keep it going, whatever is there and keep working. It’s really hard to find a job. You can’t find a job.

I want to help other women. But help me first.


Interview of Nanay Rosie

I think husbands who lost their jobs and cannot provide any–it’s very devastating to them, being a man. So he looked for job everywhere here. At that time we had a problem with the economy here in California. So his cousin invited him in Chicago to have a business because he used to be a businessman. And so he went there, until he comes here every 3 months, 4 months later, every 6 months. Until he finally settled his job there with his business, until…Maybe he also found a woman, I don’t know. But uh, it’s my son who really made me strong to stand on my own two feet. Because I don’t have anybody to turn to, financially. You know, I had money from the Middle East, but we used it for business. It didn’t materialize. Our partner just left us. So we lost everything, everything–motel, apartments. We lost everything. We cannot sell because it’s not in the corporation.

I wanna go back home. My number one problem was, “When will I see them again?” My family–sisters, brothers, my mom, who was sick at that time. So I cried mostly everyday.

Oh my god. My chest was so heavy. Because first thing, when you didn’t have the paper and somebody is roaming around here like the police. I don’t go out. We moved from one place to another. When the police would come to you, I get nervous. All those [are] the effect of illegal stay here. But when I got it, as if the knife get out from my chest and you know, I was so happy. I don’t know, I spent so much. The lawyer let me pay like $12,000– one half first and then every month.

My first memories of violence…When I first started at work as a nurse, I still had a problem with pronouncing the words right. And when I’m talking to the doctor they will say, “Are you Korean? Filipino? I don’t understand you.” And then they will do like that, they will bagsak the telephone. They will just hang on me. And then I had to call because I have to get an order. And then she said, “Is there any RN I can speak with, with better pronunciation? I don’t really understand you.” And then I cry. I go to the bathroom and cry.

And then my second day of working was that, there was a guy who was encircling me. Because our apartment is just near the hospital and so you just cross the street. I didn’t know. Because what I really know about America, is it’s like gold. Nobody will snatch you or snatch your bag or hold up you and everything. But I have so many, like 10 experiences [of getting mugged]. The other one was two guys were trying to get me. I was still young those times. I was 38 to 39. My son was months old and my husband is supposed to come and pick me up, even though it’s just across. And then here comes two guys, trying to get me into their car. And what I did, when I had a chance to run, to go back to my work, I did it. And early in the morning I go visit someone. Somebody poked a gun here [points to her temple].

Nanay Beng and Nanay Rosie’s stories reflect the hardships and exploitative conditions that migrant OFWs face everyday. We must continue to oppose the anti-migrant and worker policies created by imperialist countries. GABRIELA USA recently joined the 3rd International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees ( to oppose the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), which attempts to force labor export policies on other countries around the globe. Migrants continue to be exploited by such policies, thus we must unite with our sisters and brothers for justice!

Legalization for All!!
Swift Reunification of Families Now!!
End Labor Export Policies! Oppose the GFMD!!

Sisters of Gabriela, Awaken! (SiGAw) is an organization serving Filipinas in the Los Angeles community. We strive to build a strong Filipina women’s mass movement, recognizing that the problems of the Filipina diaspora are linked to the root problems of the Philippines. SiGAw addresses the rights and welfare of women through education, organizing, campaigns, and cultural work.

SiGAw is a member organization of GABRIELA-USA, an overseas chapter of GABRIELA (General Assembly Binding Women for Reforms, Integrity, Equality, Leadership, and Action). GABRIELA is the largest and most mlitant women’s alliance that is working for genuine democracy and freedom in the Philippines.

SiGAw is an LGBTIQ-(Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer/Questioning) friendly organization that is inclusive of gender-non comforming people of Philippine descent.

SiGAw is also a member organization of BAYAN-USA.