Labour migration, human trafficking, and Philippine government ineptitude: The case of Mary Jane Veloso

Unless you read Filipino newspapers, you are probably unaware of the case of Mary Jane Veloso. You are, however, likely to be more familiar with the case of the “Bali 9,” which refers to a group of drug traffickers who will face death by firing squad in Indonesia. More attention has been given to the Bali 9′s Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran because their case has galvanized their home countries of Australia and other Western governments. In many mainstream media accounts, such as articles in the BBC and the Guardian, Veloso isn’t even referred to by name. One article even referred to her as a Filipina “maid.” 

That Veloso’s case is relegated as a footnote to the cases of Chan and Sukumuran highlights a few matters. 

First, the relative inattention made to Veloso’s case compared to Chan and Sukumaran’s shows that the loss of Veloso’s life matters less. Chan and Sukumaran are Australians who’ve been rehabilitated in prison. They have duly repented and are ready to move forward with their lives. Veloso, in contrast, is a Filipina “maid.” Nothing more is said about her. In terms of whose life matters more, the lives of folks from rich countries obviously need to be saved before the lives of folks from poor countries. That reports show that Chan and Sukumaran’s execution may be delayed until after a clemency hearing in May, whereas no such option was given to Veloso, underscores how Chan and Sukumaran are deemed more worthy.

Second, that the Australian government has marshalled all of its diplomatic resources towards saving Chan and Sukumaran whereas the Philippine government has not done much to save Velasco points to the Philippine government’s inability to protect its nationals abroad. Multiple reports have shown that Veloso did not initially get help from the Philippine embassy after she was first arrested. That the Philippine government dispatched numerous security forces against a group of peaceful protesters holding a vigil on behalf of Veloso in Manila illustrates how its priority is the maintenance of “security” and the economic status quo of relying on migrant remittances for development.

Third, this bring to mind the sad reality that despite decades of activism on behalf of migrant workers - activism which calls for alternatives to migration in the wake of Filipina migrant Flor Contemplacion’s death - the Philippine government has barely done its part in finding employment opportunities for its nationals. That the Philippine economy relies primarily on labour migration for economic growth means that the Philippine government is reluctant to antagonize countries that receive its migrants lest this flow of money through migrant remittances stops. And though I recognize that power imbalances between sending and receiving countries means that the Philippine government is irrevocably tied to a neoliberal economic system that makes it hard to conceive of economic alternatives, this does not mean the Philippine government should be given a free pass. There are ways to challenge the economic status quo. Alternatives to labour migration to generate economic growth can be found. There just needs to be political will to implement these alternatives. At the very least, more robust channels to protect its nationals abroad need to be established. The irony is that the Philippine government also eagerly portrays its labor migrants as “national heroes” - the flip side to such depictions is that, like all “heroes” who are dispatched to save others (in migrants’ case, to “save” the Philippines from destitution), the risk of dying for their heroism is ever present. 

Fourth, the economic bankruptcy of the Philippines is such that migrants like Veloso have little choice but to go abroad. Veloso first went to Dubai to be a domestic worker but left after an attempted rape by her employer’s husband. She was later duped into carrying drugs into Indonesia by a friend who promised her a job as a domestic worker, leading to her arrest and now, her execution. That Veloso was found guilty despite evidence showing that she was a victim of human trafficking makes her case even more tragic.

Veloso is supposed to be executed as early as tomorrow. If you are in the Philippines and reading this, please consider going to a rally in front of the Indonesian embassy in Manila. And if you are in another country, please consider signing this petition asking for clemency for Mary Jane.

Filipino activists in the U.S. call for Aquino’s ouster

SAN FRANCISCO – In a nationwide protest held February 24, ahead of the 29th anniversary of the People Power Revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship, activists demanded the resignation of President Benigno Aquino III.

Bayan-USA, the international chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan or Bayan (New Patriotic Alliance), organized simultaneous rallies in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Seattle.

In San Francisco, dozens of students and community members joined the march from Market and Powell streets to the Philippine Consulate on Sutter.

“We’re asking President Aquino to resign based on his presidency,” Irma Bajar, Gabriela’s vice chair for international relations, told Manila Mail. “It is our duty as Filipino Americans to let the Filipinos know that we want the truth, we want [Aquino] to be accountable. We have seen in the latest incident of Mamasapano that he clearly is still working with the United States. And he’s not thinking about the people. He’s basically a puppet of the U.S. and is not being accountable. He’s been hiding the truth and we’re demanding that he resign.”

The Mamasapano incident refers to an anti-terrorism operation in January that led to the slaughter of over 70 Filipino civilians and policemen.

“A lot of people have seen that his interest is more of the capitalist interest or corporate interest, of pleasing the United States. Specifically on behalf of Gabriela, the women and children are the most affected by his presidency and his corruption. And we’re tired and we demand that he does resign,” Bajar said.

Bernadette Ellorin, chairperson of Bayan-USA, noted in a press handout that there has been increasing U.S. economic domination and militarization in the Philippines since Aquino came to power in 2010.

Korina Sanchez is still my favorite reporter. Well, don’t judge her too quickly. May point ang magkabilang panig. Pero malaki ang paniniwala ko kay Cooper sa mga reports niya. Unang una walang mapapala si Cooper kung pagtatakpan niya ang Pilipinas. At hindi natin masisisi si Cooper sa makikita niya dahil unang una galing siya sa Amerika. Ang gobyerno nila dun eh aksyon agad. So normal sa isang tao na galing sa isang magandang bansa na masilip ang ganitong bagay. Pangalawa reporter si Cooper sa ibang bansa. So mapagmasid siya at lahat ng detalye eh makikita niya dahil kailangan niya yun dahil nagtatrabaho siya sa isang kilalang news broadcasting at yun eh CNN.

Posibleng gusto lang nga pagtakpan ni Ms.Korina si Mar Roxas dahil asawa niya ang maiipit dito. Pero mali ang sinabi niya kay Anderson Cooper na “hindi niya alam ang sinasabi niya” dahil unang una. Si Korina Sanchez eh nasa studio lang at wala sa Tacloban at si Anderson Cooper eh nasa Tacloban mismo. So sino ang mas nakakakita? Sino ang mas nakakaranas? Si Cooper diba?

So hindi imposibleng magsabi ng rant si Cooper about sa Pilipinas. Kung pati naman tayo alam naman nating mabagal ang Gobyerno pero sigurado akong nagawa na ni PNOY yung effort niya sa pakikipag kaibigan sa bansa. Isipin mo, kung hindi siya nakipag kaibigan sa mga bansa tulad ng Korea, Japan, USA, UN at iba pa. Sa tingin mo ba makakakuha tayo ng malaking tulong mula sa kanila? Hindi na rin maalis ang crabmentality ng Pinoy na once na napunta sa Gobyerno eh makukurakot agad. Bigla nga nawala yung mga balita tungkol kay Napoles eh.

So bilang reporter ginawa lang ni Cooper yung trabaho niya. Nakita niya yung pinag kaiba ng pag assist ng government natin sa trahedya sa bansa nila.

Eto example:

Galing ka sa Pilipinas. Let’s say 14 Years kang andito. Tapos lumipat ka ng ibang bansa. Tapos sa eskwelahan mo dati mapapansin mong mababait ang tao. Tapos pumunta ka ng ibang bansa tapos uso dun ang pagkakaroon ng bully. So ma ikukumpara mo kung ano ang meron dati sa bansa mo na nakikita mo sa bansang kinaroroonan mo ngayon. O kaya naman pumunta ka ng Singapore. Magugulat ka na bakit sobrang linis ng Singapore? Hindi ba’t minsan eh nagtatanong tayo bakit hindi ganun sa Pilipinas? So sa issue ni Anderson, ganun lang din ang ginawa niya. Naihambing lang niya yung bansa natin sa bansa nila.

So to make the long story short.

Ginawa lang ni Anderson Cooper ang role niya bilang reporter.
At ginawa lang ni Ms.Korina Sanchez ang role niya bilang asawa.

Racist Lucy Liu

Lucy Liu was on the David Letterman show tonight and said that she doesn’t run outdoors because then, she would get dark and start looking Filipina.  She then followed this up by saying that this won’t “match.”*

It isn’t so much the fact that Liu expressed such abhorrent sentiments on national television that bothers me.  Rather, it’s the way she didn’t think it was a big deal to make these glib observations that irks.  It’s almost as though Liu felt that what she was expressing was a sentiment that was so pervasive that saying that looking dark was a mark of inferiority and thereby insinuating that those who are comparatively darker skinned are ugly was just, you know, telling it like it is.

Sadly, Liu’s thoughts are far from being anomalous. I spent my formative years in Hong Kong and trust me, I know from painful personal experience that these ideas are out there.  Also, after interviewing different Filipina and Indonesian migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong and Singapore, it struck me just how accepted it is to judge people’s worthiness based on skin tone.  In these cases, migrant domestic workers’ skin tone was seen as valid criteria for determining their employment.  More than one migrant domestic worker I interviewed told me that their recruitment agencies, spurred by prospective employers, prioritized the hiring of lighter skinned Filipinas and Indonesians, with one woman even telling me that her employer rationalized this by saying that hiring someone with dark skin “will scare the children.”   Others told me that their employers in Hong Kong and Singapore saw Filipinas and Indonesians’ dark skin as a sign of poverty and dirtiness; indeed, their employers’ rules that insist that their clothes are washed separately from other household members’ clothes because employers didn’t want their ‘dirt’ to literally rub into other people’s clothes is a direct manifestation of how employers fear being contaminated by dark skin.  All of this shows how value is tied into class and gender as well as to race and to color.

Although I doubt whether these sentiments are freely expressed in North America (the Lucy Liu incident being an exception, of course), this doesn’t mean that perceived racial hierarchies among different Asian groups don’t exist.  Although it would be tempting to assume that the immigration experience binds different groups of Asians together, if anything, it almost seems as though these divisions are hardened in the diaspora. In fact, Asian racism against Asians is so commonplace in North America that entire stereotypes about how “Asians hate other Asians” have become a standard trope that comics such as Russell Peters incorporate this in their acts.  His classic piece on how Indo-Canadians compete with Chinese-Canadians when it comes to bargain hunting is a brilliant example of how different Asian groups are suspicious of each other. 

My own experiences with attempts to form Asian-Canadian solidarity coalitions in Canada show that sadly, we are still a long way away from trying to work in solidarity with each other to achieve common economic, political, and social goals.  A lot of Asian-Canadian organizations fight against each other, not only for the very limited resources that are available to support their work, but also for recognition. For instance, though I initially participated in the discussions among different Asian Canadian groups on forming a unified “Asian Canadian” response to the notorious MacLeans magazine article on universities being “too Asian,” I, as well as many others, were soon disgruntled.  Not only was “Asian Canadian” coded as being “Chinese Canadian” and “Korean Canadian” to the exclusion of other Asian groups, attempts to engage in dialogue across these different groupings were thwarted because only certain voices and certain perspectives were being prioritized; heck, a lot of the correspondence that was sent on our list-serves were written in Chinese, making it inaccessible for those who could not read Chinese characters!   What experiences of “Asian Canadians” are then being privileged and being seen as the norm? 

Consequently, Liu’s sentiments deriding Filipinos for being dark makes sense when you see these in the broader context of how different Asian groups are socialized into distrusting and excluding each other and, yes, ranking each other on the basis of arbitrary criteria like skin tone. 

*Shout-out to DSS for telling me about this!


Manila, Philippines: Workers and youth march to demand “Disaster President: Resign!”, March 14, 2014.

Sorry Not Enough! Resign Now!

One day after Pres. Noynoy Aquino apologized for his government’s late response to super typhoon Yolanda, workers led by national labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno marched to Mendiola to call for the chief executive’s immediate resignation.

Saying that the more than 10,000 people who died because of the super typhoon and the government’s criminal neglect deserve nothing less than Aquino’s resignation, the labor group also said that Aquino’s apology is both insincere and unacceptable.

“People will surely ask who will replace Aquino if he resigns. We think, however, that the main question after his apology is how long should he remain behind bars for his criminal neglect of the victims of Yolanda,” said Elmer “Bong” Labog, KMU chairperson.

The labor leader said Aquino was only forced to apologize because of the intensifying protests of the victims of the super typhoon and that without the protests, the government would still be trying to make it appear that it was swift and effective in responding to the super typhoon.

“Aquino’s apology brings to mind Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s ‘I am sorry’ speech in the aftermath of the ‘Hello Garci’ electoral fraud scandal. Both apologies highlight the chief executive’s crimes and their desperate attempt to dampen growing condemnation of their crimes,” Labog said.

KMU also said that Aquino’s apology is insincere because it is followed by various justifications for his government’s late response and comes four months after the super typhoon hit the country.

“While it is true that Yolanda is the strongest storm to ever make landfall, it is also true that Aquino did not do anything significant to save Filipinos’ lives. Yolanda’s strength does not justify Aquino’s criminal neglect, but further highlights the latter,” Labog said.
The labor center claimed that the Aquino government failed to conduct a massive evacuation drive before the super typhoon hit as well as rescue operations immediately after the super typhoon hit.

It said the relief operations the Aquino government did carry out were late, grossly insufficient and constitute an insult to Yolanda’s victims, given the devastation suffered by agriculture and companies along the super typhoon’s path.

“We vow to bring our case for the president’s resignation to the people. We vow to intensify our protests against his anti-people policies and call for his resignation as we approach Labor Day,” Labog said.

Photos: Buhay Manggagawa


Manila, Philippines: Riot police confront tens of thousands of protesters on Commonwealth Avenue before the fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Noynoy Aquino, July 22, 2013.

“Nine people were arrested, including some students of UP Diliman, and more than fifty injured after several hours of violent jostle between police and militant groups earlier in the SONA ng Bayan - a multi-sectoral annual protest action conducted at the State of the Nation Address of the president.”

Photos by Marlon Ilagan Nombrado and clang 

Convergence and Comic Relief:
On PNoy’s State of the Nation Address
by Cheeno Marlo Sayuno (sirseaweedbrain)

Amid negative criticisms and the usual clamor from naysayers, President Noynoy Aquino delivered a well-played State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the Batasang Pambansa Complex, Quezon City, today.

Shorter and lighter to the ears than other SONAs, the speech reporting on how far the country has gone throughout the year was well applauded, which even caused stirs of laughter in some parts due to PNoy’s lines that are rather comic and entertaining without getting away from the context of what he ought to let the people of the Philippines know.

Being not much of a fan of current events and stuff (yes, forgive me for that), the facts that PNoy gave us informed me of the things that he have done for the country and how it is seemingly way more acceptable than that of the previous administration. Of course, there were comparisons; PNoy has never gotten over how the previous administration brought the hell out of our country (and we shouldn’t just forget that, too). His accomplishments are better than those of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. His numbers were more than just doubled. It makes me, as a citizen, drop my jaw as I came to realize how the GMA administration made fools out of everybody. I don’t know if a punch in the face could even top all the money gone with that terrible wind that is her administration.

But of course, his speech has to be that way. No one has ever addressed how oneself is a terrible person, whatever the position. It is but natural for him to present his positive notes. Even GMA, who, in her SONAs, would only sugarcoat her shortcomings with numbers that she thinks would make people marvel her as a president, used to just present what has been done and not what should have been done. I also remembered that GMA’s accomplishments as presented in her SONAs are usually about transportation and a little bit on health, education, and others, while PNoy’s covered a variety of sectors in the society, also showing the growth not only from his previous year but also from the past nine-year administration.

I also appreciate that PNoy does not take the credit alone. He dropped names of people who were responsible to the progress in certain aspects. It would make his people work more, after being given such a prestigious tap on the back. He even gives the credit of his leadership to the Filipinos, which is humble as a president. I just don’t know if this is just a matter of wordplay and using words to lull people into believing what should have not been believed, but whatever the case, I think he has done it well.

Another good thing is that he shows how projects go from past, present, and future. There is something to hold on to. And the way he delivered it, he’s gonna make it happen if everybody is going to cooperate.

The best thing I truly appreciate about his administration is the cleansing of the government. Although the widespread of corruption still shows, at the very least, the top management is being cleansed little by little. It’s as if he’s getting rid of the druglords instead of focusing on the small-time pushers alone. One day, I hope, even these small-timer corrupt employees and officers that I could still observe on my usual travel from Cavite to Manila will soon be gone, and I wish the best for them.

I also believe that we can’t just forget the things from the past just like that. The previous administration owes all of us big time. Somehow, they should pay for it. 

I am not much of a pro-PNoy; I think it has to be cleared. But being fair to him, I think he has done a pretty good job. His accomplishments are way beyond expectations and way beyond GMA’s accomplishments combined. Let’s give him a fair game. He suffered from the remnants of the past administration. There is a lot to do with what was lost and what is actually absent. Not only does he need to uplift the country from ground level, but he also has to save us from the pits of last administration’s fall to quicksand of poverty and corruption.

He can’t make our country rich right away. Making our economy rank 1 is not a one-time instant job. He has to mend first our dying country before making it even stronger. We should somehow give him support rather than negativities because the last thing he needs in helping the Filipinos out is a bunch of people telling him that he’s not even doing his job.

If the criterion for becoming a good president is the ability to solve all the problems right away, PNoy is not a good president. But if he is doing his part in mending our country’s wound, then I would still prefer him as our leader.

Everybody indeed has to converge to save what’s left of our country because there are still a lot of resources to make good things from. The question is, are you willing to help?