BAYAN USA: Filipino Voices for Political Change
"Imperialismo, Ibagsak!" (Imperialism, it will fall!)
"GMA mismo, Ibagsak!" (the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo Presidency, it will fall!)
"Sigaw ng Bayan, Kalayaan!" (The Cry of the People is Freedom!)
These chants and Bayan Ko ("my homeland"), the alternative to the National Anthem of the Philippines, began the second congressional meeting of BAYAN USA ("the homeland" USA). The collective organization has grown exponentially since its founding in 2005 as political tensions in the Philippines continue to be pulled by corruption, graft, and ruthless military aggression. With a history rich in revolution, activists in the Philippines are once again sounding the cry for a change to the rampant poverty and political repression of their pursuit for a better way. Thousands of Filipinos and Filipino Americans with a conscious concern for the homeland have united to rally under the BAYAN USA flag in direct support to the struggle of their kasamas and kinabuhayans (partners and fellow Filipinos). The struggle for true National Democracy in the Philippines has become globally organized.
I traveled to the San Francisco Bay Area as a Midwest representative to the meeting of BAYAN USA's congress. I was concerned about the worsening internal strife of the Philippines. I traveled there last summer, and when I returned, the frustration and cynicism of many of my friends and family about the problems of the Philippines intensified my hunger for solutions and answers.
Some conference participants talked about the economic pressures behind immigration. "In the Philippines there are teachers that have left their country to become domestic care workers in countries abroad for better pay, lawyers that have left their homes to work as security guards," said BAYAN USA member, Oswald Katipunan. "These people have worked hard to get their education but the lack of national opportunity forces them to continue their struggle abroad just to support their families. This is the effect that we see worldwide in the waves of migration today. This is the push and pull of the single superpower and the oppressed of the world. Imperialism exists and BAYAN USA confronts it head on."
BAYAN USA Gathers for its Second National Congress
Prior to the congressional meeting, BAYAN USA hosted a delegation of 30 of its representatives to the San Francisco Consulate General of the Philippines, Hon. Maria Rowena Mendoza Sanchez. The Consulate General was questioned and pressured to respond to over 800 documented political killings (PDF) and countless human rights violations that have shaken Filipino democracy to its core. Each representative of BAYAN USA gave personal testimonies on their perspective and experience of the crisis to Sanchez.
Daya Mortel, Chair of the Anakbayan (Youth of the land) Honolulu Chapter of BAYAN USA, told Sanchez that many of her friends had been killed by the country's military and government. "Just this past summer, we were on an [exposure] trip (Sandiwa link) to the Philippines," she began. "We were on our way to [the island of] Samar before we heard that our friend and contact had been shot and killed by the military. He had done nothing wrong. He simply held a voice for a better life for his country and his people. What are you going to do about this?"
The Secretary General of BAYAN USA, Rachel Redondiez, was quick to point out that ceaseless numbers of these cases have been documented by the Human Rights Organization, Karapatan, which is based in the Philippines. They have been compiled and handed to the Philippine Government to no avail. They are simply ignored.
The beginning of the Second Congress of the collective followed the next day. The agenda included report-backs from the different chapters, analysis of Philippine economics and politics, cultural theatre and dance breaks. Representatives from over 12 organizations sat as delegates at the table while the rest of us sat back, free to participate and debate, but not to vote on any decisions or resolutions.
The organizations that make up BAYAN USA are varied. The League of Filipino Students at San Francisco State University are at the core of BAYAN USA; the latter growing as a seed from the former close to 10 years ago. The student organization continues to work in solidarity against the strongholds of local, national, and global repression. Katipunan, who had spoken on the push factors of immigration, called BAYAN Philippines "the conductor of our orchestra."
"To be effective in this movement for National Democracy, we know from theory developed over the history of Philippine revolution that we are strangled in many avenues by imperialism," he said. "We also know that our voice is echoed solely from mga masa sa Pilipinas (the masses of the Philippines). Well, BAYAN Philippines is the voice of their testimony. Under the flag of BAYAN USA, our movements from gender oppression to class oppression, and from politics to poverty are recognized under the larger fight that we are united against. And that war is the rich and the poor, or, the imperialist and the imperialized."
From organizations such as the New York Committee for Human Rights to the global alliance of the International League of Peoples' Struggle, BAYAN USA also brings a repertoire of artists, musicians, actors, and culture. A Stop the Political Killings Benefit Tour put on by Hip Hop representatives, the Blue Scholars is currently on the road.
The opening night of the congress, BAYAN USA organized a benefit show where over a dozen performers representing BAYAN showcased true Filipino talent. The feature of the evening was most definitely the Kasamas (Comrades), a hip hop group of high school aged Tagalog (native language) lyricists that lit up the microphone.
The second and last day, the BAYAN USA congress voted on and approved the General Plan of Action for the next two years (to be assessed annually) as well as minor changes to the constitution of the organization. It also held re-elections for chair, vice-chair, secretary general, and deputy secretary general.
It is realized that as long as the masses of the Philippines continue to suffer through political torment and socioeconomic crisis, migrated Filipinos will continue to suffer with them through this injustice. Through organized campaigns and consistent pressure, BAYAN USA continues to work in solidarity for a third People Power Revolution in the Philippines.
After the second People Power Revolution in 2001, known as EDSA II, president Joseph Estrada was ousted for a malignantly corrupt semi-dictatorship and his vice president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, took the seat as a successor. Her own campaigns to extend her presidency and turn the Republic of the Philippines into a parliamentary government has left many at home and abroad questioning her agenda.
I walked away from this congress and weekend of events with an inspiration seeing so many of the youth care as I do for the problems of the Philippines. I have also recognized that the colors and symbols of the Filipino flag continue to hold as much meaning today as they did when they were conceived for independence from the Spanish conquistadors; red for the devotion, blue for the unity, and a yellow sun for the new day of true liberty and freedom for the homeland. Let freedom ring!
Carlo Albano is a student at the University of Wisconsin, and an organizer with Campus Democracy Committee and Freedom Now! Collaborative based in Milwaukee.