At the Forefront of the Struggle as We Hold Up Half the Sky: Why the Peace Talks Matter to Pinays and Filipina-Americans

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At the Forefront of the Struggle as We Hold Up Half the Sky: Why the Peace Talks Matter to Pinays and Filipina-Americans/p>

Aleris Villegas | GABRIELA Portland

The basis for the continuation of the peace talks between the two recognized governments of the Philippines, the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) is to address the root causes of the armed conflict that plague the whole of Philippines society. Simply put, landlessness and joblessness affect the majority of society. Seventy-five percent of Filipinos are landless peasants who perform back breaking labor on lands they do not own, producing crops for export that they themselves can’t afford to purchase. Fifteen percent are unskilled laborers who are forced to take jobs where they are contractual workers, meaning they have no rights to fair wages, benefits, the protection afforded by worker’s unions, and stable employment. This means that nearly ninety percent of Philippine society are under the thumb of greedy landlords, corrupt politicians, foreign corporations, and a neo-liberal economic model designed to keep the country export oriented and import reliant.

The roots of widespread poverty and oppression can be traced back to a history of colonization and imperialist occupation. From the arrival of the Spanish in 1565, to the control and domination of the United States from 1898-1946 under the racist rhetoric of manifest destiny, the wealth held in the natural resources of the country have been exported to help build the economies of those who oppress the Filipino people through militarized force. Indeed, Filipinos are often described as beggars on a mountain of gold, since the mineral reserves alone are worth 1.4 trillion US dollars, but the majority of society survives on less than $1 a day.

Under the system of feudal patriarchy, the conditions of women are even worse. While in the Philippines this past summer, an organizer with GABRIELA Quezon told me, “If the men are poor, the women are even poorer.” Indeed, women often face the brunt of economic violence as they make up seventy percent of the 6,000 Filipinos that leave the country everyday seeking economic work. The majority of them enter into domestic work, leaving them vulnerable to abuses by their employers that include not being paid for their labor, the restriction of travel outside the home, sexual assault, and physical abuse. Clearly, external migration takes a toll on the fabric of Filipino society as many children grow up without their parents and families are displaced throughout the diaspora. As many as ten million Filipinos live abroad, equating to ten percent of society. The Labor Export Policy (LEP) became law under President Ferdinand Marcos in 1974 as a temporary solution to economic inequality. It continues to be openly promoted by the GRP because remittances are worth ten percent of the GDP, or $28 billion USD annually.

Not only do women bear the brunt of economic violence, the militarization of their communities by foreign and domestic forces creates a drastic increase in sexual assault. Unfair agreements such as the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Act (EDCA) only exacerbate the removal of indigenous communities from their ancestral land and the use of rape as a tactic of war. While these policies are described in popular media as benefiting the Filipino people through the protection afforded by the U.S. armed forces, in reality they open the door for the further subjugation of the people with no accountability for the foreign perpetrators who brutalize the land and local communities.

Along with a history of colonization, imperialism, and local corruption, the Philippines also has a legacy of resistance. This includes Gabriela Silang, the first woman to wage armed rebellion against the Spanish in 1763, and after whom GABRIELA Portland is named. Today, community organizers continue to be targeted and harassed by the government. There are over 400 political prisoners in the Philippines and all of them are detained indefinitely on trumped-up charges and false accusations. Many organizers are disappeared every year or slain by paramilitary groups, but the material conditions in the Philippines are so dire that fear works not as a hindrance but as a source of agitation. Indeed, it is common to hear community leaders state that if they fall, many will rise up to take their place.

The peace talks between the NDF and the GRP continue the people’s struggle for genuine liberation. Peace does not merely mean the absence of war, but the dismantling of the three root problems of Philippine society, meaning U.S. imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism. It is only through addressing the root causes of the decades long civil war that a just and lasting peace can be achieved. The armed struggle waged in the countryside will continue until people’s rights are upheld, their dignity and livelihood respected, and their basic needs are satisfied.

At the heart of the peace talks is the Comprehensive Agreement for Social and Economic Reforms (CASER). This revolutionary document proposed by the NDF outlines the people’s aspirations for peace with justice through genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization. Also included are special protections for the environment and marginalized sectors like women, LGBT, elders, indigenous peoples, and the disabled. The oppressed masses of Philippine society are the guiding force behind CASER, as the document has been continuously updated to reflect their concrete desires and clearly details how to implement the change so desperately needed.

As actors here in the United States, we have the unique position of taking collective action on the international stage by strengthening and broadening the support for the continuation of the peace talks between the NDF and GRP and the implementation of CASER. Like the revolutionary mothers who have come before us in national liberation movements, we must remain steadfast in our support for the rights of all people to be free from exploitation, corruption, militarization, and interpersonal and economic violence.

Please join GABRIELA Portland, Portland Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (PCHRP), Anakbayan Portland, and People Organizing for Philippine Solidarity (POPS) as three peace leaders from the Philippines visit Portland from April 30th-May 2nd to discuss the movement for a just and lasting peace. We are honored to have Cristina Palabay of Karapatan, Christopher Hanera from the United Methodist Church, and Dulphing Ogan who is a Lumad (indigenous people of Mindanao) leader. Let us come together as we garner international support for a genuine and lasting peace based on justice.

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