By Cathy Miraballes-Arceo
When a white police officer killed George Floyd by placing a knee on his neck for almost nine minutes, despite his cries of “I can’t breathe,” our community was forced to confront the issues of police brutality and racism. I had only heard about these problems in the news but never in conversation with my community even after working as a caregiver in the U.S. for 20 years.
Police brutality and racism are rooted in a system that mistreats Black people and other poor communities. They experience injustice in the workplace, at school, and even in their own homes. Though our experiences are different, the system that killed George Floyd is the same one that causes suffering and hardship of many overseas Filipinos working low-wage jobs, or have been trafficked by employers, and face racism and deportation in the U.S.
In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and mass protests, unemployment has reached nearly 39 million across the country, especially burdening immigrant workers. Many of my friends and family, who are caregivers, restaurant workers, and service workers, have lost jobs or have had hours cut. They worry about being exposed to the virus while on the job. But I continue working, burdened by sickness, fatigue, and stress from knowing that some of my peers working at home care facilities have tested positive for COVID-19.
We are essential to the workings of this country and the well being of its people and yet we are forced to stretch a stimulus check of $1,200 over several months. Those of us who are undocumented didn’t even get that support. Every day, my community and I confront the realities of unaffordable rent, the fear of deportation, and the struggle to support our families both in the U.S. and in the Philippines.
I was angry, scared, and confused when protests against racism and police brutality broke out in LA. But as I learned more about the demands for “Care, Not Cops,” I began to understand the righteous outrage of Black communities. I am still shocked that it took more unconventional types of protest that police all over the country began to be held accountable and for real reforms to make progress.
Seeing your people killed by police in the streets without consequence, harassed by police for no good reason, and forced to live in poverty is all too familiar because I have experienced this in the Philippines as well.
Pag nakikita mo na ang mga tao ay pinapatay sa lansangan ng walang napapasala, hinaharas ng kapulisan ng walang matinong rason, at sapilitan na nabubuhay ng mahirap – lahat ito ay pamilyar dahil ito ang nakita at naranasan ko at ng aking mga mahal sa buhay sa Pilipinas.
I am from Mindanao, an island rich with natural resources. For decades multinational corporations have invaded our communities to take our land and our livelihood. They hoard billions in profit while we worked for unlivable wages. The Philippine government caters to these corporations, using military force to displace us. They harass, intimidate, and silence us.
Regardless of who occupies Malacañang, the Philippine government uses the military and police to protect the interest of the elite, and sacrifice the welfare of the majority — the farmers, working-class and indigenous people. The Philippine National Police is one of the country’s most corrupt institutions — and this could not be more true under President Rodrigo Duterte.
Human rights violations under Duterte have surpassed even the number of cases under Marcos’s martial law, which killed an estimated 3,240 people. Human rights groups put the murder count between 27,000 and 30,000 under the police-orchestrated war on drugs. While Duterte shrugs off and challenges criticisms from local and international human rights groups, he encourages police to carry out extrajudicial executions and promises them immunity.
Duterte has taken advantage of the turbulence caused by the continued rise of COVID-19 cases across the country, by giving more power to the police and silencing the media. He has shut down the country’s biggest TV network, ABS-CBN, and sent journalist Maria Ressa, one of the most vocal critics of the administration, to jail.
Earlier this month, Duterte signed the Anti-Terror Bill into law allowing police to commit human rights violations against individuals who are “suspected” of terrorism. Any Filipino citizen, even those living abroad, can be accused and arrested for “terrorism” simply for voicing disagreement with the government. It is unconstitutional and fundamentally enables an unofficial Martial Law. It grants more power to the police force. A police force that murdered 15-year-old Fabel Pineda for daring to report the officers that raped her, killed, 17-year-old Kian De Los Santos, and put hungry quarantine “violators” in dog cages.
Even though the law doesn’t officially begin until July 18, the Anti-Terrorism Act is already being used against ordinary people by the Duterte Administration. Just a day after the Anti-Terror Bill was signed into law, the police violently dispersed and arrested 11 protestors in Cabuyao, Laguna.
But history shows that the more the state oppresses the people, the stronger the people’s resolve to fight back becomes. The problems of police brutality and racism are just a small part of a rotten system that protects the wealth and status of the elite by hurting people it considers disposable — the poor, Black, Indigenous, and more, whether here or in the Philippines. That’s why I take inspiration from the uprisings here in the United States calling for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and more. We cannot defeat a globally unjust system we are all forced to live in without fighting for each other, together.
Cathy Miraballes-Arceo is a Filipina caregiver from Butuan, Mindanao and has lived in Los Angeles for 20 years. She is a member of Migrante Los Angeles, a grassroots community organization that advocates for the rights and welfare of overseas Filipino workers and their immigrant families.