AHEAD of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s yearly State of the Nation (SONA), Filipino-American activist groups in Los Angeles, on Sunday, July 22, held their yearly People’s State of the Nation Address (PSONA) denouncing Duterte’s policies and voicing the concerns of working-class Filipinos and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Members of Gabriela – LA attended the event to demand the end to Duterte’s TRAIN law.  The women’s movement in the Philippines has caught international attention for its social media campaign #BabaeAko to oppose Duterte’s incendiary remarks towards women.

More than 80 people gathered in front of the Philippine Consulate in Koreatown on Sunday, carrying signs and leading chants that represented the PSONA theme of “Para sa Pilipinas na Malaya sa Diktadura (for a Philippines free of dictatorship)” including reducing violence across the country, regulate and expand the jobs market, end bureaucratic corruption, address the needs of OFWs and defend Philippine sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea dispute.

Organizations involved with the protest included the Mayala Movement, BAYAN-USA, Migrante International, Gabriela-LA and the Kabataan Alliance, all of which have a shared cause: defend and protect the rights of Filipinos all over the world and call out government corruption and negligence.

Bong-Bong Flores, member of Migrante Orange County, addresses the crowd to share a story of labor trafficking survivors neglected by the Duterte administration.Photos courtesy of MALAYA

“Hindi masabi na malaya ang mahal kong Pilipinas (It can’t be said that our beloved Philippines is free),” said Elaine Bernal, a college professor and leader of the MALAYA movement. “The Philippines remains trapped in dynasties and dictatorship. It is our collective duty to stand for democracy, to stand as one Filipino community, para tayong lahat malaya (so that we can all be free).”

Duterte’s policies and attitudes toward OFWs and women were a central theme to the rally. Activists denounced the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law. TRAIN, which was signed and put into effect on Jan. 1, 2018 by Duterte, was meant to be an overhaul of the National Internal Revenue Code wherein personal income, estate and donation taxes were reduced, but increased taxes in other areas like passive income and basic goods like automobiles and petroleum products.

The group also criticized the administration for its lack of work to combat abuse of OFWs, whose work comprises 10 percent of the country’s economy.

Elaine Bernal, member and convenor of MALAYA Movement, urges the Filipino-American community to stand against tyranny and corruption in the Philippines.

“We are not just workers, we are not just OFWs. we are making big contributions to the Philippine economy,” Bong-Bong Flores, son of a labor trafficking survivor and workers rights advocate at Migrante Orange County. Flores pointed out that LA is home to scores of Filipinos duped into labor trafficking under the impression that they would escape the low wages and harsh working conditions of the Philippines only to be subjected to similar abuse.

The rally took a comprehensive, critical look at Duterte’s presidency and served as a pre-emptive response to his SONA address which he delivered the evening following the rally.

The LA demonstration was one of eight cities that held a PSONA, which organizers said was not just a show of defiance against the Duterte administration but also serves as a call for other organizations and Philippine Consulate offices around the world to be active in defending workers’ rights.

“I think it’s important for people of all races to show [up] to things like this even though it’s not our country,” Marion Barker, a college student who stopped by Sunday’s protest, told the Asian Journal. “It’s important for people to be, at least aware of the examples of injustice and abuse of power because standing in solidarity to the powerless shows that people around the world don’t stand for this and it holds these corrupt leaders responsible. I mean, there are a lot of reasons why [people should stand in solidarity] but that’s an important one.”

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