Brandon Lee is a 26 year old Chinese American student at San Francisco State University. He works full time as a program director at an After-school program. He is an active member of the League of Filipino Students whom he has been apart for the last 4 years.
The night before I leave for Hong Kong, my mom begs that I do not join any rallies or protest against the government, “Please be careful Brandon. The laws in the Philippines are different from the laws in the United States”. However, I assured her that what I do is for the love of the people, “mom, I’m here to learn about the struggles of the people. Its because of the caring values you taught me that I want to improve this world”.
I was to spend 10 days in Hong Kong and 39 days in the Philippines.
In Hong Kong, I join 19 U.S. delegates, many of whom I’ve met for the first time at the Third International Assembly (TIA) of the International League of People’s Struggle (ILPS) where more than 400 members from over 40 countries also convene. The ILPS’ TIA main focal theme is to “Strengthen the people’s struggle, unite to build a new world against imperialist aggression, state terrorism, plunder and social destruction” which was facilitated in 3 days and night through speeches, kultural performances, reports, workshops, and a solidarity night.
The most amazing part of this international experience was watching people laugh and share stories. It was good to unite on many levels after engaging in debates and not drift from the principle of fighting against imperialism. Following the debate, there was consensus in building a larger base for ILPS that can be a beacon for those who want to fight against imperialism. As a Chinese American aiding the Philippine National Democratic struggle, I am a product of my friends raising my consciousness. It is our duty, once we have the tools to think and fight back to share that weapon that the Imperialist fear. Exposure trips and integrations are one way that the League of Filipino Students sharpens our minds by having each member critically think through asking questions to the communities we visit.
BalikSamBayanan (return to the homeland), is an exposure trip to the Philippines, which allows LFS organizers to concretely understand the socio-economic conditions of the Filipino people and why so many are forced to work abroad. LFS works with the LFS National in the Philippines, BAYAN-USA, and BAYAN Philippines in executing the exposure program.
As for myself, this may not be my native motherland but after my first exposure trip, I was treated as if I were family. The hardest part of my journey was my own mental barrier that did not allow me to see the Filipinos as my very own brothers and sisters. It wasn’t until processing with my kasamas on the exposure trip that I was able to understand better my own internal struggles. I now see the problems of the Philippines and those in the United States as connected as an international struggle for people’s rights and liberation.
After the ILPS’ TIA adjourned, a small group of U.S. delegates from the TIA joined Migrante and BAYAN Hong Kong for an exposure of the conditions of Overseas Migrant workers. I was shocked to learn that the women who accompanied us from the airport to the ILPS’ TIA conference were all abused from their employers. In fact, I find out later that 99% of the migrants from the Philippines to Hong Kong are women. Because of the lack of protection in Hong Kong laws for migrants, man migrants face discrimination, abuse, and poor working conditions. Many migrants work 12 to 20 hour days while getting paid for 8 hours. The minimum allowable wage law only applies to migrant workers and does not recognize that migrants also need living wages, which is why they left their host country in the first place. The fact that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the government hasn’t tried to protect migrants abroad is an indication that she isn’t serving the people as her post commands her to do.
The president continues to plunder the incomes of the migrant workers to hold up the shaky economy of the Philippines which is the main reason why she prefers migrants to stay in their host countries than return home. The only rest these migrants receive is Sunday where they congregate near the port and the City Hall. The organizers such as GABRIELLA have been able to listen, and to provide support to the abused migrant women. These women in turn are empowered and fight for their well being while learning about how the Philippine government has failed in providing a quality life back home and protection abroad.
Shortly after my 10 days in Hong Kong, I touch down at Ninoy Aquino International Terminal and immediately the first thing I feel is the pollution from all the diesel fuel that fill the air I breathe, the warm humidity that is opposite of San Francisco’s clean and chilly air.
My stay at UP Diliman was short but sweet. I spent my days talking to students and asking about their problems. Its absurd to think that there are many bright students who can’t get into UP Diliman based on financial reasons. Education should be an institution that serves the needs of the people not an institution that takes from the pockets of the students. Students there showed that they were not going to wait for the government to listen to them and instead make sure that their voices were heard by calling for National Student walkout. The walkout was used to the channel the collective voices of the youth to call for end of commercializing the school system and the rest of the country.
In Victoria, Laguna, I was able to stay with a peasant family who experiences the harsh reality of living under a corrupt government. Both parents worked the palay field while the children stay out of trouble by learning about the problems of the community. There were 4 children with the oldest who could not afford to go to high school. They worry about all many things such as their palay production (their livelihood), health of the family, and whether they have enough pesos to pay for food. They lived without running water, electricity and a comfort room. Living with this family has humbled me deeply as I attempted but knew I will not know all their problems by staying with them for 3 days and 3 nights.
Last year, an indigenous person from Kalinga had asked me, “Why did you leave your television and country to come here?” I thought about what he said for a moment, my response, “I am here because I have a heart and because I care about people. I am here to learn from you.” In the United States we often times read or talk about the experience of the Philippines but it isn’t the same as actually experiencing it. The indigenous people like the rest of Philippine society are oppressed. The ancestral land in the Cordilleras is in the jeopardy of being taken by the foreign mining corporations using the Philippine government and laws to sanction the unjust actions to plunder the resources and exploit the people.
For those who learn to fight back through demonstrating in rallies, speaking to crowds, and organizing the masses, they are met with unjust punishment from the government and its armed military, the Armed Forces of the Philippines through intimidations, forced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings. These methods to silence the voices of the people have been questioned by the people, organizations, human rights group in the Philippines and abroad, and the international community.
Traveling from one location to the next, we see the everyday hustles of everyday people; it doesn’t matter which corner of the Philippines you travel to, you always see how the conditions affect the average Filipino: The street vendors who sell their gulay without a license from the government do so because that is their livelihood, the taxi drivers taking the long route to our destination does so because he can not afford the rising oil prices he pays, the urban poor children drinking rain water off the pavement because running water had stopped for weeks and water is too expensive for their families to afford, the increased fares for jeepneys and taxis which affect millions of passengers deciding whether to travel to work or buy food for their families, and the 300% increase in tuition has shifted the institute of education towards a privatize education that only benefits a few who can afford it and not the entire Filipino people. In essence, life is getting worst for the average Filipino person.
How can this administration make their bogus claims that they have been doing everything they can to alleviate the burden of the Filipino people when they spend the tax dollars of the working people on unnecessary trips to China and America?
The experience, stories of the Filipino people, their hardships, their determination to fight and organize will be shared with many back in the United States in hopes that people where I live will also see the problems and stand with the Filipinos when they fight for their national democracy and basic rights to live.
LFS-SFSU will continue to expose and oppose any corrupt government of the Philippines. We will continue to uphold the genuine peoples movement and demands and use our international credibility in support of the Filipino people. #