BAYAN USA holds 3rd Congress in Los Angeles amidst VFA protests

Contact: Kuusela Hilo
Deputy Secretary-General, BAYAN USA
depsec@bayanusa.org

Los Angeles, CA — On March 27-29, 2009 more than 150 delegates and observers from major US cities will convene at the UCLA Downtown Labor Center for the 3rd US-wide congress of BAYAN USA.  With the theme to “Strengthen our alliance and intensify our political struggle against the US-Arroyo clique and for the rights and welfare of Filipinos in the US,” the congress is a historic event for progressive Filipinos nationwide to coordinate campaigns addressing rising unemployment, home foreclosures, and xenophobic immigration policies at home and to confront the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), human rights abuses, and increased militarization in the Philippines.

Also on March 29, GABRIELA-USA will hold its founding and first general assembly at the same venue.

Emmi De Jesus, Secretary General of GABRIELA–Philippines will serve as the Congress keynote and speaker of the GABRIELA-USA assembly.

BAYAN USA is the first overseas chapter of BAYAN Philippines.  It was established in January 2005.  “From the challenge of disunities and uncoordinated organizing prior to the formation of our alliance, we have been able to build a campaign machinery and mass movement,” Chito Quijano, Chairperson of BAYAN USA stated.  “We have conducted creative and coordinated mass actions, participated in the first ever US Senate hearing against political killings in the Philippines, helped build the immigrants rights movement, and have become a leading force in the formation of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle.”  The International League of Peoples’ Struggle is a formation of pro-democratic people’s organizations from 28 countries.

At this year’s congress, BAYAN-USA will elect new national and regional officers.  Delegates will pass new resolutions and make amendments to the existing constitution.  A cultural and solidarity night will also be held on Saturday, March 28 at 6:30 PM at the UCLA Labor Center featuring spoken word artists, hip-hop performers, and other musical guests.

BAYAN USA believes that holding its congress during this time is vital.  The Philippines is facing increased militarization and US interference as a result of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

The VFA, ratified in 1999 is a controversial agreement between the United States and the Philippines as it enables the US military to interfere with Philippine sovereignty.  It replaced the US-Republic of the Philippines military bases agreement that ended in 1991.

Many within the Filipino community view the VFA as treating Filipinos as second-class citizens in their own country.  The most recent injustice allowed by the VFA enabled a US serviceman, Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, to evade his criminal verdict.  In December 2006, Smith was tried in Philippine courts and found guilty of raping “Nicole” a Filipina.

US President Barack Obama has voiced his support for the VFA and the Philippine government’s efforts in the so-called “war on terrorism.” Since Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) took office in 2001, there have been more than 1,000 reported cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings against peasants, workers, women, artists, students, journalists, urban poor, teachers, religious leaders, and labor organizers.  International human rights organizations have expressed concern for the unbridled graft and corruption of the GMA government as 80% of the population live on $2 or less per day.

Here in the US, there is an increase of wealth concentrated in the hands of a small few while the majority of workers face inflation and rising unemployment.  Police brutality and violent attacks against youth, workers, and immigrants here in the US continues even with the recent election of a Democrat President.

The BAYAN USA congress will kick-off and end with protests against the VFA and the Arroyo government’s continuing human rights violations, corruption and shameless servitude to foreign interests.