Thanksgiving Comes in Time for Hacienda Luisita

2011 marked the 7th year of injustice since the HLI Massacre

Today, I am grateful for the Philippine Supreme Court’s verdict:  that 4,915.7466 hectares of Hacienda Luisita will be rightfully distributed .  After 7 years of mourning, the local community in Tarlac can take another step forward in this extended struggle.  (I’m really gonna be thinking all of this as I bite into my turkey bits.)

I have three distinct memories relating to Hacienda Luisita.  Two, I collected this past summer while in the Philippines.  One, I carried with me from my east coast home.  Here:

1) So many people I know found their place in the movement by campaigning around the Hacienda Luisita issue.  For many of us, it was a screening of Sa Ngalan Ng Tubo which served as a wake-up call (particularly to those of us who never understood what it was to have a “peasant” class still existing in the Philippines.)  It’s a workshop you’re bound to take…

2) At the Polytechnic University of the Philippines this summer, after the youth from the National Network of Agrarian Reform Advocates (NNARA) gave us a quick workshop about Hacienda Luisita, DJ stands up.  She wipes off the white board to the best of her ability in the humidity, and begins to draw squares.  We later discover that these represent buildings.  DJ is explaining the debris and blood left behind, when she walked through the grounds where the strikers were violently dispersed.  She talks about bodies and missing shoes.  I look across at Krystle and Candice, because I do not know what to say.  HLI is the main thrust until Christmas.  NNARA wants to put pressure on the campaign in its 7th year.

Meeting Nanay Rowena from HLI (2nd from the left)

3) In a random resort with a water slide in the middle of Rizal, Nanay Rowena tells me that the military has approached her several times.  She is a native of one of the barangays (neighborhoods) in Tarlac surrounding Hacienda Luisita, Inc.  Since the land’s ownership has been in question, and its reputation marred by the 2004 massacre, HLI has since shut its doors.  ‘They sit on the land, and nothing grows…” Nanay Rowena says with some disgust.  She tells me about how her husband is harassed, too, since he is a leading union organizer in the area.  There are no jobs.  The land is what they know, and they are being denied the right to till.  She writes her address in my notebook, in the hopes we don’t lose touch.

Until we slay the root causes of oppression, we will always face injustice.  While only about 2/3 of the entire hacienda’s 6,435 hectares were returned to the farmers, a victory is a victory is a victory.  And also, a lesson.   There are triumphs we must celebrate, especially when the morale of this movement is frequently attacked with reports of human rights violations and state repression.  We must be reminded to honor the times the people win

HLI will continue to be an exhausting and dangerous journey.  Organizers, workers, and farmers educated their communities, advocated for their rights, and fought for their survival.  This is no small feat when the powers that be want you to remain a silent majority.

Despite those odds, here we are.  At a Supreme Court ruling saying that the silenced majority is actually on the correct side of history.

The verdict on Hacienda Luisita reminds me that while the change I think I am contributing toward may not happen in my lifetime, there is an incredible amount of principle and faith involved.  I have to place my ego aside, and remember that  this work is for the majority.  There are people working HARDER for the same outcomes.  All this work, it’s for all of us.

This past summer, I wasn’t able to visit Hacienda Luisita, due to my trip’s focus in the Cordillera Region and in the Metro Manila areas.  I was quite upset and jealous that I didn’t have a chance to see HLI for myself this past summer.  However, there’s something truly poetic about never having been there, and ultimately, my first trip will be to a Hacienda Luisita owned by the masses.

Mabuhay ang manggagawa, magsasaka, at magbubukid ng Hacienda Luisita!


Celebrating A New Culture Of Resistance: Occupy Wall Street, the Second Month.

Like any good idea that hit the ground running, admittedly, OWS has its problems.  However, it is an honor to bear witness to the sea change its created in attitudes towards civic engagement.

I’ve only been on the periphery of the movement.  Mainly organizing with Bayan-USA and with the People of Color Working Group from time to time.   The first allows me to understand my position in OWS as part of the imperialist diaspora, and what it means to be an extension of my community.  The second allows me to understand the strides POCs must still make in the OWS space, to ensure this is an inclusive movement.

Mayor Bloomberg’s attempts kill the organizing occurring in Zuccotti Park (by arresting occupiers, creating curfews, taking equipment) shows that he is not protecting the interest of the people.

With the raid on Zuccotti Park 2 days ago, protesters were attacked in an attempt to quell this movement.  They lost a lot of their belongings.  As key persons in the OWS movement, this equipment was necessary to create the daily ground work which propelled this movement.  The websites, the library, the GA facilitation.  The disruption was an attempt to scatter the people’s collective voice.

This is the cumulative point of action my peers and I have created together.  While we like to say this is a leaderless movement, we’re only as strong as the years local community organizers have invested creating those links in their respective communities.  These are the people who make up the thousands in the streets during major mobilizations.

The raid on Zuccotti Park on early Tuesday morning was unjust.  Those who spilled out of subways to provide back-up were cordoned off, and many more watched the livestream in horror.  Despite the lost items and the temporary shake in the timeline, what Tuesday morning proved was this:  OWS is an important space, a space to to be protected, a space that will be rebuilt.  The world manifested this agreement in rebuilding by providing bodies the next day: 3,000 people at the Tuesday night GA meeting, the largest in a while.

There is extreme value in OWS.  In the last two months, there have been daily educational discussions, skills trainings, and infrastructure building to make this moment a movement.  A discussion.  A question.

Take the tents.  Tear down the library. Punch holes in morale.

Shelter will be given.  The library will be rebuilt.  The People will return.

On the day of the second-month anniversary of OWS, I ask you to join a rally near you:  NYC on N17.  Be part of that discussion.  Let’s have it in the streets!

How to Fear Novembers

For the last decade, I’ve attempted to complete NaNoWriMo, and have always failed.  Whether it was my professional life, personal life, or just being lazy, I’ve just never “won”  NaNoWriMo.  Le sigh.

Luckily, my writer friends, Lolan and Kimberly, will also be writing their novel drafts this month!  So, if you are equally determined to finish this year, please add me as your friend.  LET’S MUTUALLY SUPPORT ONE ANOTHER!

See you in 30 days! 🙂

Critique of SlutWalk on Behalf of All Women of Color Communities

Yesterday, Black Women’s Blueprint published an open letter via Facebook to organizers of SlutWalk Toronto, an annual demonstration to assert safe spaces and consent.  The concerns voiced by Black Women’s Blueprint regarding the march were those already on the minds of many: why is there a lack of representation and analysis on the varied contexts survivors of color face in the SlutWalk venue?

Specifically, Black Women’s Blueprint asks SlutWalk to:

  • include the experiences of Black women, and the roles they have played in the women’s movement, within the SlutWalk analysis
  • include the histories and experiences of all women of color
  • re-brand SlutWalk
  • acknowledge the historical significance of the word “rape” as a racist/sexist structure
  • to organize beyond an annual demonstration to end oppression on all levels of society
  • “Develop a more critical, a more strategic and sustainable plan for bringing women together to demand countries, communities, families and individuals uphold each others human rights”
  • To begin discussions around accountability across various borders, where people would benefit the most from solidarity efforts.

I can get on board with that.

I understand that the ultimate goal of SlutWalk is to reassert the right we all have to safe communities free of sexual violence and sexual harassment.  I understand that this is about consent.  I understand that SlutWalk challenges the overlying rape culture, as well as the shame and blame experienced by domestic violence and sexual assault survivors.  I absolutely agree with those objectives.  However, despite these very basic commonalities, I was still confronted with a guilty hesitation when I debated whether or not to participate.

Much of what Black Women’s Blueprint asks for can be applied to any woman of color.  Being Filipina, a lot of issues they raised resonated for me, on the sole basis of being brown.  Unfortunately,  the history and perception of my womanhood carried by my body is “best” seen in Kubrick’s infamous Full Metal Jacket “Me love you long time” clip .  While she is, in fact, depicting a Vietnamese woman, this racist branding in American pop-culture  is something I share with all women of Southeast Asian descent.  This is an example of the overlooked superstructures of varied oppression specific cultural contexts impose in the struggle for consent over our bodies and images.

Also, as a fellow survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault (as a child and as an adult) I feel that my participation in an event like this may trigger me, rather than empower me.   I know I’m not alone in this feeling.  SlutWalk is not particularly reflective of my struggles as a survivor.  Not to deter anyone looking forward to attending the event, but only to say that everyone takes different avenues to survivorhood.

Echoing what was already written by the Black Women’s Blueprint, what’s most important is the organizing and education that goes on between the SlutWalks.  I’m interested in the community involved (locally and globally), the campaigns launched, and the development of all-encompassing analysis inclusive of all types of survivors in the meantime.   What will propel this movement forward, beyond the annual demonstration, is the creation of “new, self-determined definitions and expressions of sexual liberation” for all (….as my homegirl, Jax, put.)

These actions will be the true markers of SlutWalk’s contributions to the larger movement for all survivors of sexual violence and harassment.

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Poverty: The New Rustic Vacation for the Boojie (Bourgeoisie)

There is just something to be said about the types of vacations some people take when they want to temporarily embrace a “simpler” life.  It’s borderline condescending, and one of the reasons why terrible films like Under the Tuscan Sun  or that unfortunate (and essentialist) best seller, Eat Pray Love exist.

It’s a fairly common attitude many Americans have – to go “back to basics” after people with money/access/privilege just want a lil’ slice of life elsewhere.  Whether it’s to feel “alive,” break out of work patterns, a need to find themselves…the list of potential reasons  is a fairly long one.

But what is the draw to the “simple” life?  Where we have the privilege to say, “Hey, I’m just visiting. Thanks for the nettle broth, locals! It was good as hell,” at any point, then leave.  Are we responsibly entering and exiting these communities?  If not, isn’t that a bit f–ked up?

Please leave comments there (so that I feel popular and validated.) ❤

International Day of the Disappeared

International Day of the Disappeared, August 30th, is the day when people formally acknowledge victims of enforced disappearances in their countries.  While the video above focuses on victims in the Philippines, a number of nations commemorate the hundreds of thousands of desaparecidos that have been not yet been surfaced due to various forms of state violence or political repression.

Today, Tuesday, supporters of the cause are asked to remove their Facebook user-photos to show solidarity with those who are victims of enforced disappearances all over the world.  Join us.

I had the incredible honor of meeting the Caravana de Madres Centroamericanas in Mexico City last November.  These women traveled for 3 days by land to arrive, and a majority of the mothers were from Honduras.  Seeing them hold up the laminated photos of missing relatives, swallowed by the border, as we walked through the streets of DF is a memory burned into me.  Being able to see them again, and ask them about their stories is the sole reason why I am improving my Spanish speaking skills.

In the Philippines, under the rampant human rights abuses of both ex-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and current President Ninoy Aquino Jr., thousands of everyday people have disappeared under Oplan Bantay Laya and Oplan Bayanihan.  I can’t even begin to tell you all the harrowing accounts of violence and torture relayed by the people I met while I was in the Philippines this past summer.  Practically everyone I came across had a story – a neighbor, a colleague, relative.  I even met one man who was abducted twice, and given the odds, it was incredibly fortunate that he was surfaced both times.

In 2009, enforced disappearances hit home for me when Melissa Roxas was abducted and released only due to increasing international pressure.  She is a Filipino-American and a writer, like me.  Melissa and her supporters continue to seek justice as the Philippine government attempts to discredit her testimony.  We will keep fighting until the military elements of  the Philippine government, who were responsible for Melissa’s abduction, are held accountable.

More information on Filipino “desaps” can be found on the ProjektDesap blog and the Target Extra Judicial Killings blog.

SURFACING from projekt_desap on Vimeo.

Google the Following: “mayor punch”

…and you will find this:

Once this clip hit Gawker this past July, Mayor Sara Duarte became fairly popular in the US mainstream.  I think being in the Philippines really colored my view of the situation, because I completely considered Duarte a hero, and an ally to the poor living in Davao City as squatters/informal settlers.  No, hitting is never a good thing, but to stop the demolition is important.  In the Philippines, demolitions are violent and a show of power by the state. I completely agree with this quote:

In its report, the DILG team said Duterte’s punching of Andres was “neither acceptable nor the only option then.”

It, however, recognized that Duterte’s action was spurred by her desire to avert violence from ensuing between the demolition team and settlers in Agdao whose houses were set to be demolished.  (Source)

What’s very interesting was the way Americans reading these blog reports perceived the situation, not fully knowing the entire context of corruption in the Philippines.  They were really quick to assume that Duarte was abusing her power, as the mayor who outranked the Sheriff.  Some even attacked Duarte’s femininity, and claimed that had she been a man, she’d be “under the jail.”  Or that this was a show on un”CIVILIZED” behavior, since you know, we’re still the US’ little brown brothers needing salvation from our savagery.  Yes, the Philippines is corrupt, but I think Americans on Gawker confused their antagonist.

Squatting exists in the Philippine as a result of various factors:

  • There is a serious lack of affordable housing in the urban centers of the Philippines.
  • Effort to relocate squatters to housing developments (like those in Montalban, Rizal province) are very far from sources of livelihood and income.
  • The Philippine government recognizes its inefficiency and has established government programs that actually allow squatters to pay-to-own.  As a result, many squatters who have been on track to pay-to-own are swindled during demolitions.
  • Residents in urban poor areas are the ousted residents from various provinces due to corporatized agriculture, foreign mining interests, and warlord landowners who land-grab.  There are left with no land or opportunities for livelihood in the rural areas.
  • FYI – squatters who don’t pay-to-own still pay for rent and utilities (electricity, water, etc.) believe it or not.

Since I’ve had the privilege  of working with various community organizations in the Philippines, I already had a different understanding of the situation.  For the most part, demolitions are unfair processes carried out when landowners want to cash in and build condos or more malls.  At times, the Philippine government owns the squatted land, other times, its some private, rich landowner.  Usually, these are empty lots when informal settlers first get there.  They begin to create irrigation, canals, cement things down, install plumbing and hardware.  There are times when these squatter neighborhoods stand for more than 25 years at a time.

When the land owner finally seizes the opportunity to sell for profit, that’s when the motions to demolish begin.  Sometimes they’re men with hammers (like the video below).  Other times, there are mysterious fires set which wipe out the homes of thousands. Most times, they are accompanied by police, full clad with riot gear and shields.  The demolitions are strategically planned, and usually occur in the lull of Philippine holidays, or very early mornings.  When I say demolitions are a violent act in the Philippines, I am not exaggerating:

In the video, the younger man is screaming and cursing at the demolition crew because they’ve hurt the children who were playing in the streets.  The older man tells the cameraman that he has lived in the area for 27 years, and that the demolition team has thrown tear gas canisters into an area where a majority of children were playing/resting.  He says that most of the children have fainted, and that family members haven’t been able to get to them.

Here’s some press on another demolition in the North Triangle area of Quezon City, the most populated area of Manila.  It provides more context on the back-end deals between developers, and the limited provisions given by the government for squatters/informal settlers to relocate to other areas.

While it was unfortunate that this kind of resistance took the form of a couple of punches to the sheriff’s head, I support the actions Mayor Sara Duarte took to ensure the demolition in Agdao would not take place.  However, given the uninformed Google-related-article based opinions seen in that Gawker thread (like the one comment talking about “CIVILIZED” society – terrible!), I plan to rethink the method I use to form my opinions on other international incidents, especially when given such little context (and having access to only major media news outlets online.)