UNITY STATEMENT OF THE PEOPLES’ FORUM ON APEC 2015

Quezon City, Philippines – The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) project is both a defensive reaction to the deepening crisis of the world capitalist system and an effort to stabilize itself through a heightened market-driven regime. This was triggered by the 2008-2009 global economic meltdown that started in the US and spread throughout the global economic system. Led by the US and its major regional allies, Japan, Canada, South Korea, and Australia, the aim is to maintain and strengthen the dominance of major industrial market-based powers by expanding access to wider regional markets in order to maximize profits for their respective ruling classes and their home-based corporations.

APEC’s neoliberal thrusts are to intensify and expand state-sanctioned free-trade-oriented policies, finance-deregulation rules, privatization of essential services, labor contractualization, and the new scheme of public-private partnerships – all in line with the ongoing trend of corporate-led globalization. These are the core principles for which APEC stands for.

This US-led agenda for recovery and rebalancing is a triple-edged economic-political-military spearhead across the Asia Pacific region. Through the so-called ‘US Pivot’, Washington is amplifying its strategic shift towards the broader Asian sphere to exploit the area’s huge market potentials and its rich resources. At the same time, however, this leads the major industrial powers into direct economic competition and political rivalry with each other.

The theme formulated by the Philippine government for APEC 2015 is “Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World”. The Peoples’ Forum on APEC (PFA 2015), on the other hand, a broad coalition of civil society organizations and people’s movements, contends that such a theme is deceptive and is anchored on false promises.

The fact remains that, 26 years after APEC was conceived, little has changed across the Asia-Pacific region in terms of fundamental social structures. Despite high growth rates, social inequalities and vulnerabilities among the regions’ poor populations, especially in less developed societies, remain hallmarks of neoliberalism’s impact upon this vast territory.

Through the trade-finance mechanisms advanced by the likes of APEC, many significant social and economic gains have either been set aside or lost altogether. Major political advances won over the past by progressive mass movements, especially the international Left-led working class, have now officially been declared as irrelevant and labelled as potential threats to the universal growth and well-being of capitalist societies. Within this context, the APEC agenda has only managed to inflict immense socio-economic-political-ecological damage to the Asia-Pacific region’s societies, its peoples and the environment.

The crisis confronting the capitalist world reflects the irrationality of maintaining overcapacity and overproduction with shrinking markets. Deepening wealth and income inequalities have prevented the majority of working peoples from purchasing the goods produced by the system. To crawl out from this inherent contradiction, the US and its other imperialist cohorts are now endeavouring to create yet another regional market-oriented mechanism while angling to out-balance America’s top regional rival, China.

With APEC as a platform, Washington is aggressively pursuing its latest anti-stagnation concoction known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement as a new regional neoliberal project but excluding China. This is in line with Washington’s plan to strategically fuse and realign its so-called ‘Pivot to Asia’ foreign policy direction around a more deliberate economic framework. The strategy is to form an “arc of denial” to contain China’s ambitions of expanding its influence beyond its borders and providing an alternative to US and Western hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region.

The US remains the world’s primary super power. It is able to maintain the world balance to its advantage largely because of its combined capacities in the economic, political, military, socio-cultural, and technological aspects. Due to this distinct advantage, it is, for the moment, able to offset the countervailing forces represented by China and Russia.

PFA 2015 has identified seven areas where crucial spheres of Asia-Pacific peoples’ lives are adversely affected. These are the following:

1. Trade and Investments:

· APEC’s trade and investment agenda is about supporting and consolidating the corporate agenda and is represented by a broad range of trade/investment-related free trade area (FTA) initiatives such as the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership), and the FTAAP (Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific);

· These new generation FTAs go far beyond trade and constitute broader economic agreements that cover trade, investments, intellectual property rights, and regulatory coherence. Corporations are granted enormous powers to challenge and sue governments on public policies that regulate investments in order to promote and pursue certain social, environmental, health, and labor policies but which are deemed detrimental to corporate profits.

2. Fiscal Justice and Trade:

· There is a growing trend of “international investment rule-making” with nominally sovereign states surrendering their say over economic and trade issues to external arbitration. This goes hand in hand with developed countries increasingly forging “mega-regional agreements”

· The effects would be: (a) reduced state revenues due to the elimination of import and export taxes; (b) the erosion of national sovereignty and fiscal autonomy with states forced to seek international arbitration procedures linked to investor-initiated legal cases; and, (c) increase in government indebtedness to compensate for trade liberalization-related revenue losses.

3. Social Impacts and Dimensions on Development:

· The social crisis is worsened as the corporate-driven approach removes safeguards for the people and the environment;

· Workers, farmers, women, and consumers are marginalized and become mere shock-absorbers of economic structural adjustment programs;

· Labor is “casualized” while the urban and rural poor are forcibly evicted from their communities to make way for elite projects (e.g. special economic zones, property development, and resorts) which benefit only a few.

4. Food and Agriculture:

· Trade liberalization greatly affects indigenous-based subsistence agriculture by bankrupting small-scale indigenous farmers who are forced to produce high-input crops, as opposed to indigenous/organic crops;

· State support is drastically reduced in favor of privatization, domestic production is endangered, and landlessness worsens.

· Control by domestic and transnational corporations is expanded over food production, trade and distribution through public-private partnership arrangements, adoption of IPR on plant and agriculture investment incentives.

· Food and environmental safety are compromised with the commercialization of GMO crops.

· Increased exploitation of agriculture and natural resources including marine resources in favor of big agribusiness companies to the detriment of small farmers, municipal fishers and IPs dependent on these for their subsistence.

5. Climate, Renewable Energy and Environmental Justice:

· APEC 2015 is being held just two weeks before the 21st Paris Conference of Parties (COP21) December. Since the APEC includes countries that are the top Annex-1 Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emitters, the US being the world’s leading historical emitter, we need to see what their national responses during the APEC Summit;

· While the US and China are now both publicly committed to a reduction of their dirty energy-use, Southeast Asia is instead moving towards more dirty energy projects. The contradiction for the latter is that Southeast Asia remains one of the most vulnerable regions of the world in terms of food security and climate change disasters.

6. Democracy and Human Rights:

· Human rights does not figure in APEC’s scope of over forty (40) areas of concern. This glaringly major gap simply reflects the reality of a “Corporate Capture of States”;

· UN principles and resolutions have outlined the corporate responsibility to respect human rights and the urgent need for an“Elaboration of an international legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights”.

· A “human rights respect-redress clause” must be embedded in all trade and investment agreements, including a mandatory Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) in extractive industries.

7. Regional Peace and Security:

· Even as APEC’s official scope of focus is on economic and trade-related matters, a major issue of concern is the question of regional peace and security;

· The US ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy is aimed at directly countering China’s own expansionist plans and securing its own market access;

· The US is now aggressively expanding its military presence across and beyond the APEC region and continues to strengthen and enhance its regional security alliances with Japan, Australia and the Philippines through interoperability joint military exercises;

· These moves confirm that powerful countries are securing their own national economic interests by pursuing militarist options instead of exploring other ways of peaceful regional cooperation.

Asian peoples and their mass movements need to confront the corporate-led agenda and the continuing elite-capture of the economic policies and practices underpinning multilateral trade/investment agreements, such as the APEC. The response, therefore, is to form a broad global front of progressive peoples’ movements that would expose the disastrous effects of capitalist neoliberal strategies and challenge them at every opportunity. In many countries ravaged by policies and programs engendered by these strategies, mass movements have confronted their respective governments and international institutions and struggled for a reversal of the neoliberal agenda.

This is graphically illustrated by the “Battle of Seattle”, the “Occupy Movement”, global gatherings such as the annual “World Social Forum”, the peasant-based “Via Campesina”, parallel civil society forums at meetings of multilateral financial institutions (i.e. the WB, IMF, ADB, etc.) and regional free trade groups (ASEAN, APEC, etc.), among others. At the national level, we salute the gains of national movements in thwarting inroads of neo-liberal globalization – agrarian movements installing poor peasants in their lands, anti-mining movements, food sovereignty movements against privatization, etc.

On the electoral front, palpable is the capture of state power by leftwing socialist parties in most of Latin America and in Greece, and the ascendancy of radical left parties and leaders in Spain and the UK. In Asia, left parties have governed in Nepal, Timor Leste and in some Indian states while the recent landslide electoral victory of the NLD in Burma bodes well for democracy movements. Among scholars, academics and students, there is a growing trend of unorthodox approaches to economic theories and practices that reject the neoliberal approach. People-to-people networks across countries and regions have also been established on issues such as workers’ control, human rights, climate justice, women’s rights, LGBT concerns, peasant and indigenous peoples’ rights, and alternative education.

Such challenges to neoliberalism and corporate-led globalization need to be expanded and sustained. The crying need is to build, consolidate and strengthen broad platforms of resistance against the global economic paradigm that is being foisted on Asian societies and their peoples. The neoliberal capitalist system is not working; it needs to be overhauled and replaced with a humane and radical alternative. Let our voices be heard and our actions be decisive!

Laglag Bala Scam: Time to End Cronyism, Time to Let Go of Abaya and Honrado

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By Former Rep. Walden Bello

The Laglag Bala scandal is one more item in the growing list of DOTC mishaps. Secretary Abaya is well-meaning but he’s just not up to the task of managing this critical arm of government. You need someone who combines good management skills with fearless determination to bust the criminal syndicates in the various agencies. Abaya has neither.

This is the the second controversy in less than a year that NAIA General Manager Angel Jose Honrado has been linked to. He became notorious as the bureaucrat who cooked up the illegal plan to have our OFWs pay the airport tax, a measure from which they are exempted by law. This time he has been clearly negligent in overseeing airport security.

The Laglag Bala scam represents something much bigger. The scandal underlines how cronyism undermines good governance. Both Abaya and Honrado have been encouraged in their mismanagement by their closeness to the president. Like others in the Aquino cabinet, they have so far seen themselves as untouchable. Will President Aquino finally stop his awful practice of coddling his cronies and get rid of this duo before they wreak more damage at the DOTC?

As the former Chair of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Overseas Workers’ Affairs, I am especially concerned about the impact of laglag bala on our OFWs. Many have expressed fear through social media and an online petition about coming home this holiday season, which is a time when they reunite with their families. Instead of anticipating this happy reunion after toiling all year long, they are worried about being victimized by the laglag-bala scam. Many problems have festered at the airport under the Abaya-Honrado watch. Notorious among these other problems is the malignant growth of the taxi and transport cartels that victimize returning OFWs by charging an arm and a leg for short distances. These monopolies must be swept away, along with Abaya, Honrado, and the Laglag Bala syndicate.

Getting rid of Abaya and Honrado, immediately bringing the culprits behind Laglag Bala to justice, and busting the taxi and transport cartels is the least the Aquino administration can do to rectify the its record of neglect of a very important part of our nation.

Unions decry deceptive, vague ‘labor agenda’ of APEC

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ORGANIZED workers sneered at the so-called labor agenda in the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Manila next month by describing it as deceptive and vague, which merely reaffirms APEC’s ideology based on the primacy of corporate power and profits over labor and trade union rights.

Trade unionists belonging to the national labor center Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (Sentro) joined today the broad-based and multisectoral People’s Forum on APEC (PFA 2015) in flocking to the Mendiola Bridge near Malacañang to banner the calls of “APEC kills workers’ and people’s rights.”

Despite finally including “labor concerns” among the four official priority agenda in the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting (AELM) on Nov. 18-19 under “Investing in Human Capital Development,” it remains a lame and ineffective attempt to muddle the plight of the workers and to appease their growing discontent, Josua Mata, Sentro secretary general, said.

“APEC is again using euphemisms and obfuscations – from the widely known business jargon of HRD or human resource development to its more recent clone of HCD or human capital development – to cover up its ulterior aim of levelling up the already rampant labor contractualization, which further swells the ranks of the ‘precariats’ or the impoverished and disempowered workers or proletariats with precarious jobs,” Mata added.

“This corporate mumbo jumbo is part of the neoliberal alphabet soup on how to further enrich the global corporations and the few elites because HCD like HRD is still based on the capitalist or market economy’s twisted concepts on purported efficiency, competitiveness, profitability and workers’ discipline; thus, the need for more non-regular jobs, lower wages and benefits, and the reining in of the unions,” Mata explained.

This thrust was somewhat echoed in the joint statement of the APEC Structural Reform Ministerial Meeting last Sept. 7-8 in Cebu City, when the supposedly “rising labor costs” were again used as a scapegoat or blamed for “restricting (the) ability” of some APEC member economies, including the Philippines, “to graduate out of (their) middle income status.”

PFA 2015 acts as a parallel and alternative assembly to the official APEC gathering and highlights grassroots’ stand on workers’ and trade union rights; trade, investment and finance; climate and environment; social impacts on class, gender and empowerment; peace and security; and democracy and human rights.

The AELM is being hosted by the Philippine government following its hosting of a similar summit in 1996 in Subic Bay Freeport, which was also hounded by protests from local and international anti-APEC and anti-neoliberal globalization groups.

Women march against poverty is a march for human dignity

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Women group march in Mendiola, Manila / Photo by Borgie Ceniza Balinton

Fourth International Action
STATEMENT INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR THE ERADICATION OF POVERTY
World March of Women-Pilipinas

Our march against poverty is a march for human dignity. It is our right to live a life where choices are not clipped by the meagreness of resources available for us, our future not chained to injustices that deprive us the means to live, our roles not imposed by an economic system that value profit over rights.

Poverty is the outcome of systemic abuse brought upon us by greed – corporations excavating mountains, exploiting the lands, uprooting trees, cementing coasts, keeping wages at their lowest, profiting from social services, and at the cost of poisoned communities, displaced farmers and fishers, enslaved workers, prostituted women and children. Greed finds good company in guns and the militarization it represents to ensure that the corporations and elites are protected. Guns come with goons and the patriarchal set-up it represents to keep women silent and subservient to this system.

But we, women, can never be silenced. The World March of Women-Pilipinas refuses to be clipped, chained, and devalued by this system of greed, guns, and goons. Women know the enemies and we shall hold them accountable for bringing more than half of our country into poverty. We seek justice for the poorest families earning barely a tenth of what the richest families earned. We demand response to the declining employment of women, with one-third of employed women working as unskilled workers, mostly in wholesale and retail trade, agriculture and manufacturing, or forced to leave their homeland. Women work in conditions that are highly informal and vulnerable, with tenuous contracts, low pay or earnings, and little social protection.

Landless peasant families earn 148 pesos on the average in foreign-owned agricultural plantations, with women farmworkers earning 15 peso less. All these unjust conditions push women to work as migrants, where often we are treated just the same, with little protection and dignity.

Women know the enemies intend to blind us, passing as laws like the Mining Act but operating like thieves in broad daylight. No gold can blind us to see that mining does not give jobs, does not contribute to the economy, and can never be responsible enough to safeguard the environment and the community. For the past years, mining contributed to less than 2% to the GDP, employing less than 0.4% of labor force.

Mining violates half of our protected areas and two-thirds of the ancestral domains of our indigenous communities across the country. Poverty rates are evidently high in host-communities of mining, with their leaders and rights defenders being terrorized and killed by hired militias. These private armed groups often have the blessing of the state and political clans, in the name of protecting investments. The state should be held responsible for the human rights violations committed by the militias in the mining communities. The political clans and their dynasties should be dumped this coming elections, along with the weight of the rocks and soil that can never be made fertile again due to mining.

Women shall claim back the lands and waters grabbed by these corporations and we shall cultivate and nurture them to address food security instead of profit. Mining and other forms of resource extraction is just one category in land grabs, there are countless others disguising as development interventions. National and local elites have capitalized on programs like ecotourism, industrial agriculture and biofuels, residential and commercial use, to pass off land grabs as legitimate act. Even disaster-affected areas are not spared. Fishing communities were forced to leave coastal areas declared as no build zones due to anticipated effects of disaster, only to find out later that these were being sold to corporations for resorts and commercial use. Meantime, the farmers, fishers and indigenous peoples who dare fight for their lands and territories are treated as law offenders. Their acts criminalized, their rights taken for granted.

On this International Day of Eradication of Poverty, the World March of Women-Pilipinas calls on the eradication of corporate mining, land grabbing, the prostitution of women and children, labor rights violations, and state terrorism as drivers of poverty.

The women’s march against poverty is a march for human dignity. Our dignity lies in securing the rights of peoples to land, water, and territories as sources of their subsistence for the present and future generations. Our dignity lies in equal opportunities for men and women to participate in and benefit from development that does not exploit the environment nor oppress communities. It is with dignity that we shall overcome poverty on our own terms.

October 17, 2015

World March of Women-Pilipinas • Alyansa Tigil Mina • Bagong Kamalayan Collective, Inc. •
Buklod ng Kababaihan sa Olongapo • Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA) •
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific (CATW-AP) • Focus on the Global South •
Freedom from Debt Coalition • KAISA KA • Katutubong Lilak (Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights) • WomanHealth Philippines • Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau (WLB) • Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan • PhilWomen on the ASEAN • Sarilaya • Sentro ng mga Nakakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO) • SENTRO Youth • Transform Asia • True Colors Coalition • Youth and Students Advancing Gender Equality (YSAGE)

Military still denying its obvious hand in lumad killings and displacement; gov’t turning a blind eye

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Lumads in the colorful Kaamulan Festival / Wikipedia photo

WHEN all is said and done, the insistence of the military that it does not direct or coddle the paramilitary forces that were responsible for the massive displacement of indigenous peoples (IPs) and the grisly murders of lumad leaders in Mindanao could best be described as blatant lie and obfuscation. This brazen lie and denial have persisted more than one month after the audacious slaughters in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, and months after the systematic and continuing harassment of lumad communities and killings perpetrated with impunity by military-backed armed groups.

Despite the army’s vehement denials, it is well known in the IP communities and the local governments in several Mindanao provinces – particularly in Regions 10 (Northern Mindanao), 11 (Davao), 12 (Soccsksargen) and 13 (Caraga) – that a number of dreaded civilian armed groups, like the notorious Magahat-Bagani (MB) and Alamara militias, are brainchildren of the military acting as a “force multiplier” for its counterinsurgency campaign. Surigao del Sur Gov. Johnny Pimentel likens the MB, for instance, to a military-created “monster” that the authorities “could no longer control.”

Monster or evil incarnate, indeed. For how do we call those who carried out the carnage in the early morning of September 1 in Barangay Diatagon, Lianga town in Surigao del Sur? About 200 residents from several sitios in Diatagon – including children and women as well as students and teachers staying in the dormitories of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) in nearby Sitio Han-ayan – were roused from their sleep and herded by the MB gunmen to a basketball court. There, to their horror, they were forced to watch the brutal execution of tribal leaders Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo for being allegedly New People’s Army (NPA) sympathizers. Among the terrified witnesses were Campos’ four children.

The MB gunmen also viciously killed Emerito Samarca, a popular educator and executive director of Alcadev inside a classroom in this school that caters to lumad students. His hands and feet were bound, his chest was shot, and his throat was slit from ear to ear. He, too, was branded by the MB as backing the Reds, while Alcadev is being accused as a “training ground” for NPA guerrillas. In fact, Alcadev has reaped many awards, including from the Department of Education itself, for its pioneering and successful literacy and livelihood programs – advocacies that are badly needed in the poor and remote lumad communities. Alcadev and other similar grassroots education institutions are constantly being harassed or threatened with takeover by military teachers or with closure, like the Fr. Tentorio Memorial School in Kitaotao, Bukidnon last Oct. 1.

While the Diatagon killings were going on, government soldiers were seen nearby, which further proves that they either actively support or at least tolerate the MB militia; thus, they should be charged as well with complicity to the triple murders.

The barbaric murders coupled with the warning of the MB gunmen that they will also kill the residents have triggered the mass evacuation of about 2,700 Manobo IPs to Tandag City, where they are staying at the provincial sports complex until now. Likewise, almost 700 lumads, mostly children and women, have fled to Davao City due to heavy military operations in their communities in Talaingod and Kapalong in Davao del Norte and in San Fernando, Bukidnon. They are being sheltered in a Protestant-run facility since May, and still threatened like the failed attempt of security forces to evict them last July. Aside from the military campaigns that are endangering their life and interrupting their livelihood, the lumads also expressed fear from forced recruitment into paramilitary groups like the Alamara, which, like the MB, was also created by the military.

The seemingly all-out militarization and indiscriminate counterinsurgency campaign – both by the regular military and special police troops and their paramilitary minions, including the Magahat-Bagani and Alamara gunmen – have uprooted about 6,000 lumads in different parts of Mindanao, according to a recent report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

What happened in Lianga and still happening in many IP communities in Mindanao are reminiscent of the martial law and Cold War times, a supposedly bygone era, where constricted black and white worldview prevails – it’s either one is an ally or a foe, whether real or imagined. Thus, Red bogey or anticommunist hysteria was widely propagated by rightwing regimes, including the Marcos dictatorship, to justify the crushing of democracy and dissent as well as the hideous human rights violations, and while they emptied the nation’s coffers to enrich themselves.

Incidentally, many IP communities are rich with natural resources, including minerals and timber, which would drive mining and logging companies to salivate. In fact, Barangay Diatagon is part of the 60,000-hectare Andap Valley, which, aside from its rich agricultural lands, has been confirmed to contain vast amounts of gold and coal deposits prompting the government to tag Caraga (the region where Surigao del Sur belongs) as the country’s “mining capital.” By the way, all the murdered lumad leaders were known to be against the mining operations in their areas of big mining firms Nickel Asia and SR Metals whose owners are said to be financial backers of the Aquino administration’s presidential bet.

Granting for the sake of argument that some – although certainly not all – of the murdered lumad leaders (the three martyrs from Diatagon as well as in other places in Mindanao) were “communist” supporters, but still it does not warrant their torture and killings, especially since they were unmistakably civilians and clearly noncombatants. Remember that even the actual combatants are still protected by laws of war; how much more the unarmed and helpless civilians, and more so, the innocent ones?

The apparently scorched earth policy or tactics of the military and paramilitary forces are patently unjust and sweeping causing coldblooded tortures and killings, destruction of cherished community lives, padlocking of schools, ripping up of livelihoods, breaking down of indigenous unity in which IPs are pitted against each other, and the displacement of thousands.

The Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa is one with the calls to disarm, disband and outlaw all paramilitary units. All their members – as well as their “handlers” in the military, police and the government – who were party to the murders, injury, harassment and displacements of lumads and to other crimes should be promptly brought to justice.

In particular, Executive Order (EO) No. 546 issued in 2006 by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which granted the legal bases for the creation and existence of abusive paramilitary groups and private armies, must immediately be repealed. This was promised by then presidential candidate Benigno Aquino III in 2010 but conveniently forgotten when he got elected.

Sentro also calls for the establishment of permanent and self-sustaining peace zones in the lumad or IP communities scattered in Mindanao as well as in other parts of Luzon and the Visayas. These “first Filipinos” must be given the tranquility, dignity and respect that they rightfully deserve. Thus, all armed groups both from the government and the rebel forces must do their “battles” significantly far from the IP and civilian communities.

To our sisters and brothers in the Finnish trade union movement

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Militant greetings of solidarity and comradeship from your co-workers and co-trade unionists from the Philippines!

The Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO) – Center of United and Progressive Workers – a national labor center here in the Philippines, expresses its utmost support and offers its warmest applause for the mass protest actions and other related campaigns that will be staged by the organized workers in Finland, led by the Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK), the Finnish Confederation of Salaried Employees (STTK), and the Confederation of Unions for Academic Professionals in Finland (AKAVA).

Your expectedly huge demonstration at the Helsinki Railway Station Square on Friday, September 18, rightfully deserves to be actively supported not only by all Finnish workers but also by the international labor movement and all workers anywhere, including the Filipino workers and trade unionists. We are one with the Finnish workers and trade unions in hoping for your success in pressuring the rightwing coalition that currently rules the Finnish government to stop its sweeping, arbitrary and unilateral actions and plans to significantly weaken labor and trade union rights as well as to substantially reduce social welfare benefits, including health and education budgets – which were all won from decades of hard-fought struggles of the Finnish labor movement, enjoyed for years by all Finnish people, and envied throughout the world.

The slashing of many workers’ benefits including unemployment insurance, overtime and Sunday pays, sick leaves, vacation leaves, among others, are not only utterly revolting and unjust but an ominous sign as well. Right-wingers and neoliberals, if not prevented and defeated, will eventually impose a social order where trade unions and other people’s organizations are effectively emasculated, and wealth and power are concentrated in a few.

If the ruling parties in the Finnish government refuse to heed the calls of the workers and the citizens, let the September 18 protests swell into a more massive and widespread collective actions of the Finnish trade unions and civil society to restore the rights and benefits that were taken from them.

Long live the Finnish workers and trade unions!
Fight and defeat rightwing and neoliberal plots against the workers and trade unions!
Workers of the world unite!

Botched ‘balikbayan’ box policy: Lina’s folly, Aquino’s saving face

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Manila Bulletin Photo

THE COLLECTIVE and swift vigilance and wrath of the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), their families and the civil society have forced President Aquino to backtrack yesterday on his implicit support of his customs chief’s plan to arbitrarily check “balikbayan” boxes, which are considered as “integral part of the family relationship” among those working and living abroad and their loved ones left in the country.

“Thanks, but no thanks to P-Noy; his about-face was merely to save his face, to avoid further backlash against his government and his anointed ones in next year’s elections. Because before he yielded to public clamor versus the balikbayan box policy, he actually encouraged this idiotic plan,” Josua Mata, SENTRO secretary general, said.

Mata added that “the morons who thought of that plan have apparently ignored the huge sacrifices and contributions of the millions of OFWs, the multibillion-peso smuggling of illicit or highly taxable items as well as the dumping of hazardous wastes from other countries that thrive and persist under the very noses of corrupt customs personnel, and the availability of nonintrusive inspection methods that could detect contraband goods without the need to pry open the humble balikbayan boxes sent by the OFWs to their families here.”

After widespread protests, including in the social media and from lawmakers, Malacañang belatedly ordered Alberto Lina, Bureau of Customs (BOC) commissioner, to stop his much-maligned idea – that in fact harasses the OFWs, not the big-time smugglers, criminals and terrorists – and to instead conduct noninvasive large-sized X-ray and K-9 examinations of all containers of OFW boxes.

Physical scrutiny of a specific balikbayan box will be allowed only if the X-ray or K-9 inspection found “derogatory findings,” but strict protocols will be followed, including the presence of a representative from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) or an OFW association, and CCTV (closed circuit television) units will be placed to monitor the inspection areas to deter pilferage or theft, bribery and vandalism.

Earlier, Lina – the former BOC head during the Arroyo regime, and appointed by Aquino last April – announced that balikbayan boxes, which typically contain the usual household wares and gifts, would be subjected to random inspections to prevent the entry of illegal materials or to assess the contents for duties and value-added taxes.