January 21, 2013
Reference: Jackelyn Mariano, Deputy Secretary General, BAYAN-USA, firstname.lastname@example.org
Filipino Americans Continue Mobilizing for Justice in the Wake of Obama’s 2nd Inauguration
As President Barack Obama takes his inaugural oath for the second time, progressive Filipino American organizations under the banner of BAYAN-USA reflect on his next term with a critical eye, especially as this day also commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and having been critical of Obama’s domestic and foreign policies during his first term.
“Obama’s first term not only continued many of the policies of the Bush administration, it sullied Dr. King’s revolutionary legacy,” stated Bernadette Ellorin, Chairperson of BAYAN-USA. “In 1967, in a famous speech delivered at the Riverside Church in New York City against the Vietnam War, Dr. King warned, ‘A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.’ President Obama’s track record shows disregard for King’s caveat.”
Dwindling Economy, Burden on Working People
Obama began his second term by supporting the dreaded “Fiscal Cliff”, a legislative move that would implement steep cuts to public services and continue shifting the burden of fixing the U.S.’ $1.3 trillion deficit–caused by spending more than the federal budget’s capacity, overwhelmingly on the military–onto working people.
“Obama has done little to alleviate the pain working Americans are feeling in the middle of the worst economic crisis in history,” states Ellorin. “Instead, he has made the pain worse by maintaining a U.S. economy dependent on the big banks and finance firms, and he continues to make working Americans pay for the financial misdeeds of these banks and firms that caused the crisis by funneling trillions in U.S. tax-dollars from the public sector to bail out banks and private enterprise.”
Military-Industrial Complex and the Asia-Pacific Pivot
The U.S. military budget will amount to $525 billion in fiscal year 2013. This makes up 57% of the total discretionary budget and exceeds the budgets of other departments and agencies combined. “Contrary to Obama’s public support of stricter gun laws, especially in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, the U.S. occupies a monopolistic niche in the global arms market, supplying 78% of the market worldwide,” said Ellorin.
In 2012, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced a strategic pivot of 60% of the U.S. military to the Asia-Pacific region. Under the guise of national and global security against China, BAYAN-USA interprets this pivot as a tactic to secure imperialist interests in the region. Said Ellorin, “This pivot is an opportunity for the U.S. to sell more arms to its allies and build a military stronghold to maintain economic dominance. For hundreds of years, the U.S. has used the Philippines as strategic bases.”
More recently, despite the closing of U.S. bases in the 1990s, the U.S. has been increasing its visits to the Philippines and trampling over Philippine sovereignty through the continued implementation of the Visiting Forces Agreement. Last week, the USS Guardian rammed itself into the Tubbataha Reef of the Philippines, greatly harming an endangered natural ecosystem. The U.S. government has only apologized for the incident and refused to reveal vital information about the true conditions of the reef. “The U.S. exercises complete arrogance in this matter. It is equally disappointing that Philippine President Aquino’s administration has not responded swiftly to hold the U.S. accountable and has instead given way to U.S. imperialist reign,” said Ellorin.
Abuse of Migrant Workers
Known for its record number of deportees from the U.S., more than any other previous president, the Obama administration’s pattern of repressive legislation against immigrants in the midst of a failing economy has created the conditions for the proliferation of human trafficking and forced labor in the U.S.
In the U.S., a class action lawsuit is currently being filed against Grand Isle Shipyard (GIS), an oil refinery and exploration company based in New Orleans, Louisiana. Hundreds of Filipino workers are stepping out from the shadows to hold the company accountable for human trafficking, dangerous working conditions, slavery, wage theft, and discrimination, among other labor and human rights violations. For years, Filipino workers were forced to work for six to seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day without overtime pay, for up to four straight months on oil rigs offshore, and with thousands of dollars in over-blown “room and board” deductions unlawfully withheld from their paychecks. In November 2012, the Black Elk Platform on which GIS employees were working exploded, killing 3 Filipino workers. BAYAN-USA and other concerned groups claim that deliberate oversight caused the explosion. GIS has been guilty of over 300 labor violations that have not been investigated thoroughly by either the U.S. or Philippine governments.
“This is a blatant case of modern-day slavery. The U.S. was built on the backs of African slaves. The Capitol building that Obama made his inaugural oath on was built by slaves,” states Ellorin. “The U.S. prospers from the exploitation of cheap slave labor, and as a result, Filipino workers and other migrant workers face the dangerous brunt of this while big corporations that work hand-in-hand with Obama profit greatly.”
Justice Through People Power
“We need to build a movement that will push for comprehensive immigration reform to combat the systemic trafficking of our migrant work force! We need to expose the U.S. military’s culpability in violating Philippine sovereignty! We need to fight for access to basic social services and jobs!” exclaimed Ellorin. In the legacy of Dr. King, BAYAN-USA will continue to contribute to building a movement in the U.S. against imperialism, while organizing the broadest support from the U.S. for the Philippine movement for genuine freedom and democracy, no matter who sits in the White House.
BAYAN-USA is an alliance of 18 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 Maka bayan (BAYAN-Philippines), BAYAN-USA serves as an information bureau for the national democratic movement of thePhilippines and as a center for educating, organizing, and mobilizing anti-imperialist Filipinos in the U.S. For more information, visit www.bayanusa.org