Keynote to Migrante International 8th International Congress
By Julie de Lima
November 15, 2018
Militant greetings to Migrante-International on its 8th International Congress. As a fellow migrant, I thank you for the honor and privilege of being invited to keynote your Congress. It is significant that you are holding your Congress at a time that we join the Filipino people in celebrating the 50th founding anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines whose all-round leadership is propelling the advance of the national democratic movement to which we all belong.
Let us greet, honor and thank the CPP leaders, cadres and members for their 50-years of perseverance in the Filipino people’s struggle for national freedom and democracy! Let us also greet honor and thanks all Migrante-International leaders and members whose diligence and perseverance have made Migrante-International a worldwide presence upholding and advancing the rights and welfare of Filipino migrants all over the world while they do the same for their families left back home.
Your current congress is the best time for you to sum up your experience, take stock of your strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, rectify errors and shortcomings, draw lessons, firm up your unity and make your plans for expansion and consolidation; as well as elect your officers and leaders for the next program period ending 2022. Gigantic tasks await you.
Four years ago, you were confronting a do-nothing president whose main concern was to intensify and accelerate the commercialization and enslavement of Filipino overseas workers to increase foreign exchange remittances but did nothing to improve the lot of the migrant workers in their host countries nor the lot of their families back home.
Now you are confronted with an even worse president whose grand promise of industrialization to develop the Philippines and thus eliminate the need for workers to leave the country to find employment has not only remained unfulfilled but is being buried in the wanton construction of infrastructure projects dependent on huge Chinese loans bloated by overpricing of supplies and equipment; and that instead of providing employment for our people, has opened our country wide to Chinese contractors and workers who are given preferential treatment in these projects, and thus close the possibility for our skilled migrant workers abroad to return home to their families and find employment in these projects.
Duterte’s Build, Build, Build has certainly not resulted in Jobs, Jobs, Jobs for Filipino workers. We see no relief from the unemployment, underemployment and insufficient wages and incomes that continue to drive our compatriots abroad and face uncertainties even when they have jobs or when having difficulties finding jobs, while back home their families who depend on them face even bleaker socioeconomic conditions with the rising costs of basic goods and and deteriorated social services, and political suppression when they protest. Our migrant workers abroad face worsening economic and political crisis in most of their host countries, which are afflicted by economic stagnation and ever rising levels of public debt. These conditions give rise to various reactionary currents, such as fascism, chauvinism and religious bigotry that work to the detriment of the rights and welfare of migrant workers and our other compatriots abroad.
In this regard, I suppose that Carol’s input on the challenges posed by the Duterte regime would help to guide Migrante-International in taking on the special role stated by your theme for the 8th Congress, which is exposing the crimes and isolating the regime among the Filipino communities and their organizations as well as among the people, their organizations, state and private institutions as well as international bodies and international formations in their host countries. Let us all work hard to oust or cause the ouster of Duterte at the soonest possible time. I shall delve on this point later in discussing the short-term and the long-term role and tasks of the migrant sector.
The National Democratic Movement Upholds and Advances the Rights and Interests of the Migrant Sector as Part of the Filipino Working Classes
The national democratic movement encompasses the entire Filipino people, whether they are at home or abroad. This means that the national democratic program includes upholding and advancing the rights and interests of all Filipinos equally , whether they are at home or abroad. This means that the national democratic movement also has equal obligation of arousing, organizing and mobilizing migrant Filipinos and their families back home to uphold, protect and advance their rights and interests in their host countries as well as build and develop links of solidarity and support with the people in their host countries.
A Peek into Filipino Migration in the 20th Century to the Present
We know that labor migration occurred at the time of Spanish colonial rule between the Philippine colony and the other colonies of Spain in the Americas. However, it was only with the coming of the 20th century that the first great wave of Filipino migrant laborers (mostly landless peasants and farm workers) occurred. This occurred during the US colonial period from the first to the fourth decade. These Filipino laborers were recruited to work the sugar cane plantations of Hawaii, the truck farms and orchards of California, the canneries of Alaska, and the ports of Seattle, New York, etc. (as porters, sailors and deck hands). Although they came as US nationals (the Philippines being a US colony) they faced racial discrimination, low-paying jobs and poor health and living conditions. These deprivations drove them to organize themselves in a spontaneous way; but not all because some others were recruited into and became members of the Communist Party of the USA.
The more fortunate migrants were the “pensionados” sent by the colonial government to train and study in the US and afterwards return to the islands to constitute a pro-US colonial bureaucracy and civil service. They came mostly from the upper middle classes or from among small landlords’ children.
During the Great Depression and upon effectivity of the Tydings McDuffie Law in 1934 strict immigration quotas were imposed limiting Filipinos to only 50 persons per year. However, after WWII the migrant inflow increased with Filipino women coming in large numbers as US servicemen’s “war brides”; and men coming as recruits into the US armed forces, particularly the US Navy, with qualified young men coming in droves from entire towns; as well as men and women recruited as health workers or health worker trainees. The US Armed Force Services recruits were the most privileged as they were better paid and were able to improve the economic status of their families back home; and generally they did not return home but became naturalized US citizens and subsequently petitioned their immediate family members to migrate to the US. The temporary migrants were scholars ranging from high school exchange students, teachers, professors and other civil servants under the Fullbright and Smith-Mundt Programs nurtured to ensure continuing US dominance over Philippine society even after the US grant of “independence” in July 1946.
The second big wave of Filipino migration started in the mid-1960s. As we all know, this was propelled by the labor export policy that the Marcos fascist dictatorship adopted to relieve the chronic crisis of unemployment due to the exhaustion of the land frontier for agriculture and the chronically underdeveloped semifeudal economy unable to provide jobs for the displaced peasants who flowed in droves to urban centers. During most of Marcos dictatorial rule, labor export grew to more than 5% of the GNP. Labor export recruitment agencies many of them owned by Marcos cronies proliferated, building their fortunes to supply Filipino workers to the Middle East and beyond. The main destinations aside from the US included Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Libya, Canada, Japan, Australia, Italy, Spain, UK, Austria, Norway, Sweden, etc. US migrants were still the largest.
When Marcos fell, all his successors from Cory Aquino down to Duterte adopted basically the same policy as they were unable to bring the our country out from semifeudalism. Thus our working people, including the most skilled, continue to be driven to migrate abroad with many taking menial jobs well below their skills, thus depriving our country of their training and talent. According to World Bank statistics, remittances of Filipino migrant workers abroad has now grown to more than 11% of Philippine GDP and is the main source of foreign exchange.
National Democratic Organizing among Overseas Filipino.
Overseas Filipino organizing started spontaneously as early as the first half of the 20th century when Filipinos banded together to form themselves into associations as a response to the oppression and deprivations that they were experiencing in their host country. Most of the associations or organizations were of a social nature consisting of people who came from the same region or province or who spoke the same language.
However a sizable number of individual migrants were recruited into and became members of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) (previously named Workers Party of America & then Workers Communist Party). For example, RufinoTumanda organized the Filipino Anti-Imperialist League in Brooklyn, and was a CPUSA member in New York City. He later became CPPI secretary general in 1933-1935, succeeding Emilio Maclang (who took the place of Crisanto Evangelista when the latter was arrested). An even larger number of Filipino migrants were recruited into and joined trade unions, notably the International Longshoremen’s and Warehouse Union (ILWU). During the Spanish civil war, many Filipinos in the US joined the American Brigade to fight on the side of the Republicans against the Franco fascist dictatorship.
Conscious national democratic organizing of overseas Filipinos and solidarity organizing in the US started in earnest in 1969 when a KM member emigrated to the US in California and was assigned to take on these tasks. There could be no direct carry over from the earlier work of Filipino communists in the CPUSA and International Longshoremen’s and Warehouse Union because the McCarthyite witchhunt had destroyed such work in the early 1950s. It was with the Filipino oldtimers in California that he first came into contact. They had either been organized or influenced by the US Left in the 1930s and 1940s.
He started working among the progressive Filipino oldtimers and relating with progressive forces in US to mobilize support for the Philippine revolution. They organized Katipunan ng mga Demokratikong Pilipino (KDP) as the first overseas Filipino national democratic mass organization, which published the newsletter Katipunan in support of the national democratic movement. Thus Filipino activists who fled to the US upon the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in 1971 and then the declaration of martial law in 1972 found a ready national democratic organization of Filipino migrants/immigrants to join.
The KDP had branches in 4 major cities–Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York; with links to and had working relations with some US progressive organizations, institutions and groups. Later several more branches were organized in Canada–Vancouver, Toronto, Winnepeg and Ottawa. They organized Filipinos in North America for the Philippine revolution and were very active in campaigning against the atrocities of the US-Marcos dictatorship. They could raise modest amount of funds, part of which they spent for their operation and campaigns, and the rest they sent to the movement back home.
Although the KDP membership was only in the hundreds, they cooperated with the anti-Marcos conservative opposition and Benigno Aquino supporters who also fled to the US. The International Association of Filipino Patriots (IAFP) and Ugnayan were formed and quickly expanded. But the line between the progressive forces (NDs) and the anti-Marcos reactionaries became blurred so that after the fall of Marcos during the time of Cory Aquino, the national democratic organizations practically disappeared. But loyal national democratic activists remained to regroup later during the CPP rectification campaign.
Marcos’ atrocities and killings extended to the US. In 1981, Filipino- American labor activists Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes were both assassinated June 1, 1981, gunned down inside a Seattle downtown union hall. Like Benigno Aquino two years later, the killings of these two KDP activists were ordered by the fascist dictator Marcos; criminal acts which further enraged the Filipino people and their solidarity supporters to intensify their struggle and eventually lead to the downfall of the fascist dictatorship, but whose shadow has again emerged today as the Duterte de facto fascist dictatorship.
The anti-Marcos campaign in the US was a significant factor in the downfall of the Marcos fascist dictatorship as they contributed to making the Reagan administration realize that Marcos was already more of a liability than an asset to US interests in the Philippines.
You are familiar with the Migrant organizing in the Asia Pacific region—Singapore, Hongkong, Japan, Australia, etc. There was little overseas Filipino organizing in these areas. What was very successful during the time of the Marcos fascist dictatorship were the institutions that were built and around which solidarity campaigns and organizing were conducted. Comprehensive solidarity work in the region among communist, workers and social-democratic parties, ecumenical and humanitarian organizations succeeded in gathering the most substantial political, moral and material support for the Philippine struggle. The Negros campaign was the most effective until the end of the 1980’s
In Europe as in the Asia-Pacific region, not much Filipino organizing was conducted but solidarity work and organizing was very robust, especially in Germany, Italy, Netherlands, United Kingdom the Scandinavian countries—Norway, Sweden, Denmark) and Austria and was very successful in gathering moral, political and material support for the anti-Marcos struggle.
In 1976, Ka Louie Jalandoni and Ka Coni Ledesma were dispatched to Europe to do representation work for the National Democratic Front and in effect for the entire national-democratic movement. They started the proto-diplomatic work covering Europe and the Middle East. The biggest achievement of the work here was the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal Session on the Philippines, which found Ferdinand Marcos guilty of 12 counts of grievous crimes against the Filipino people; and recognized the NDF as the legitimate representative of the Filipino people.
The PPT, effectively spread the word about the struggle of the Filipino people against the US-Marcos fascist dictatorship and further boosted organizing for solidarity work, and thus solidarity from among revolutionary, progressive and humanitarian organizations and individuals in terms of political, moral and material support for the revolutionary forces and people in the Philippines.
The Migrant Sector’s Role and Tasks
In organizing work among our overseas compatriots, we takes the view that our overseas compatriots are part of the Filipino nation and therefore fall within in its scope. Thus migrant workers abroad can be approached and organized to take part in or support the Filipino people’s struggle for national and social liberation, either as direct participants or as solidarity supporters. This goes not only for migrant workers but for all compatriots residing abroad whether permanently or temporarily. Targets of our compatriot organizing include people of Filipino descent who can be encouraged to join compatriot organizations or political Filipinos (foreigners who opt to become either direct participants in the national democratic movement).
National democratic organizations can take various forms: along sectors (women, youth, students, artists, media people, writers and other cultural workers; along condition of precarity, (undocumented workers, opers, hawkers, peddlers etc.); by regional groupings (Cebuanos, Ilocanos, Ilongos, etc.), along lines of interest (cultural, sports, IOT workers, programmers, etc.); along lines of work (seafarers, especially those in flags of convenience, dock workers, other transport workers, unions and guilds; hotel and restaurant workers, oil rig workers, shop workers etc.); along geographical locations abroad (national, regional, city, locality or community) , or as support groups of allied partner organizations or mass organization and alliances back home.
The precarity of their situation in host countries abroad and of their families back home, make migrants easily approachable for arousing, organizing and mobilizing to defend and advance their rights and welfare, and shortly gain interest in the Philippine revolution. They have relatively recent knowledge of conditions in their country of origin. In fact, many of them come from areas where the revolutionary movement is strong and have experienced or been involved or have relatives or friends who are involved in the movement.
We need to boldly expand and strengthen the work of Migrante International as the core of the basic masses of Filipinos abroad. As such it should function as the mainstay for building the broad united front with other Filipino organizations and for linking with progressive organizations, institutions and agencies in host countries as well as interstate organizations, institutions and agencies to build a strong broad international solidarity network both in advancing our long term tasks and our immediate task of exposing, and opposing the criminal acts and failings of the Duterte terrorist regime in consonance with the principal efforts of our people back home.
If we do our social investigation well, we will discover that our existing organizations are still very limited among the possible forms of organizations we can and must build. This is to say that social investigation is a much neglected area of our work. We must systematically attend to this work. Spontaneous social investigation is being done, as for example when we see some people looking like Filipinos or hear them speaking any Philippine language, we usually approach them and start a conversation, asking where they comes from, how long they have been abroad, etc., etc. We simply need to stress to our members to systematize such conversations, exchange telephone numbers, or email addresses so that we would know how to communicate with them or invite them to our affairs or events, and to note down or record the conversation for SI purposes and for making further approaches. It would be helpful to draw up SI forms and made available to our members specifically for this purpose.
The additional kind of SI involves knowing the conditions and the significant forces and resources helpful for your work in upholding the rights and welfare of migrants as well as your work as factors of the national democratic struggle. This means knowing the public and private organizations, institutions, agencies; their political orientation, resources, etc. Again another SI form should be drawn up for this purpose.
Consider the importance of this work and form teams for systematizing it. Conducting systematic social investigation will facilitate not only your expansion but also your consolidation. It also means building strong connections and relations of solidarity with other organization of Filipinos abroad, other migrant communities as well as with the host peoples. One more point I wish to stress is that we must repeatedly conduct social investigation to know the changes that our work has effected and to further advance our work.
A much neglected area your work is arousing, organizing and mobilizing seafarers and I am glad that you are taking steps in this regard by making it as one of the four issues to be taken up by your thematic panels. As you say, seafarers compose almost half of all overseas Filipino workers, thus they deserve your immediate attention. They work in cargo ships, cruise ships, fishing boats, oil rigs and others, where they suffer generally oppressive and exploitative employment and inhuman working conditions. We should organize them wherever they are based, in coordination with pertinent organs and units involved with manning agencies, maritime schools, ports and other service organizations and international unions.
If this is not already a main area of your concern, I propose you consider this a top concern in your next four year plan with definite targets from year to year. Initially you must make a thoroughgoing social investigation of the concrete conditions of Filipino seafarers and their families in the Philippines, their class character based on their economic and political status and political affiliation, the classes and sectors to which they belong, their needs and interests, their associations and organizations, where they are, their ports of call, where they congregate, their vacation time, etc.
Thus you will learn how to approach them and be able to agitate, educate and raise their political consciousness; then organize them to become activists and finally mobilize them to engage in actions and campaigns for their own welfare as well as for the national democratic movement. Migrante International would be very much strengthened when it succeeds in organizing seafarers in vessels plying the seas and oceans and calling on ports all over the globe. (Think also of all the practical services that organized seafarers can render to the national democratic mass movement.) Not as urgent but as a new frontier in Migrante International organizing would be airline and airport workers.
You belong to communities that include other immigrant and migrant worker communities in your host countries. These communities are sources of cheap labor in host countries, doing odd and most difficult jobs avoided by the host peoples. They have the common aspiration of being accorded equal treatment and opportunity and of being protected against racism, neo-fascism, discrimination and unjust immigration and oppressive nationality laws of host countries. Thus it is important for you to coordinate and cooperate with progressive immigrant, migrant workers, and host peoples’ organizations on these issues and in forming or joining coordinating organizations or networks to promote and protect the rights of minorities and migrant workers in your host countries.
International Solidarity Work
There is a need to establish and strengthen more broad solidarity formations in different countries and to conduct systematic alliance work. We must approach individuals strategically positioned in key international and multilateral institutions, political parties in government or in the opposition, in churches and church bodies, international media and so on. In this work, we must acquire through practice the skill to be on guard and to combat the influence of reformist and outrightly counterrevolutionary elements like the contras, clerico-fascists and Trotskyites; and currently the Dutertards and trolls among Filipino communities and their collaborators abroad .
We should expand and deepen our solidarity work to reach out ever increasing numbers of individuals who can heighten their awareness and solidarity for the struggle of the Filipino people for democracy and liberation. We need to strengthen propaganda and information regarding the different facets of the Filipino peoples struggle for their economic well being, political, social and cultural aspirations and activities to achieve national and social liberation. We need to show the efforts and victories of the peoples organizations, their own emerging peoples government and their liberation army for winning the peoples struggles.
The reciprocal part of our international solidarity work to gain support for our national democratic movement is in turn to give support to our class kins, including other migrant nationalities in the host country. Mutual solidarity and support build strong bonds between peoples and class kins in various countries. Furthermore, to build the broadest international united front, you must attend to the task of representation, solidarity, protodiplomacy, which lends the essence of ‘broadness’ to our international solidarity work. But again, as in the united front Migrante International must strengthen itself to be at the core.
In this work, we need to address the urgent social, economic and political issues confronting Filipinos at home and abroad. We need to rapidly increase broad international solidarity and alliance work and pay special attention the tasks of exposing, opposing and defeating the US-instigated Oplan Bayanihan and the heinous criminal and terrorist acts of the fascist tyrant Duterte: the bombings and military occupation of peasants’ and indigenous people’s communities in the countryside; the wanton and mass killings of peasants, workers, indigenous people and suspected supporters of the revolutionary movement in the countryside as well as mass activists, trade unionists, priests, human rights advocates; the wanton killing of suspected drug addicts and pushers in urban poor communities; the false claim of implementing an independent foreign policy that in fact is a policy of the double treason– maintaining and even reinforcing all-round US dominance and consigning the our country and people to being a Chinese debt colony to be able to finance a costly build, build, build project with Chinese loans, equipment, building materials and labor; practicing state terrorism with all its attendant evils, including impunity within the ruling system; wanton corruption with all its ramifications such as that of being the supreme drug lord of all drug lords; etc., etc.
This campaign requires effective attention to broad solidarity and alliance work. Conversely, it will provide the opportunity for broadening international solidarity and strengthening this particular area of work, especially necessary for thwarting the imperialist terror campaign worldwide.
Aside from the man-made disaster that Duterte has wrought on the Filipino people, we also need to mind the natural disasters that are induced and whose effects are aggravated by the imperialists and the local reactionaries because they do not care about the exploited and impoverished people who are vulnerable to such disasters. We must involve ourselves in building the broadest international solidarity front to fight climate change and to promote environmental protection.
Migrante International must take advantage of the proto-diplomatic gains that have been achieved through the peace negotiations between the NDFP and the GRP. Although Duterte has terminated the peace negotiations, there are still plenty of opportunities for you to develop this work. You have also done your own proto-diplomatic work in the course defending and advancing the rights, interests and welfare of Filipino migrant workers as in Singapore, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, etc., in cases involving the miscarriage of justice such as the execution of Flor Contemplacion. These are initial steps or moves towards developing international relations with States and interstate or inter-governmental organizations and their agencies, especially in view of the Philippine government’s neglect or failure in upholding the rights and welfare of its citizens abroad.
Lastly but very importantly, you must build and maintain a robust propaganda machine consisting of writers, artists, IT techies, websites, periodicals and fact sheets (both digital and printed) to broadcast the people voice. You must have dedicated committees and organs for propaganda at all levels of your organization. Consider including the subject of systematizing propaganda work in your planning for your next program period.
All the tasks outlined above require a people’s media for amplifying our voices in exposing, opposing and defeating the enemy, such as the terrorist tyrant Duterte, at every given time; in expressing the interests and aspirations of the people; in inspiring other people to rally to our cause; and in announcing to the world our people’s achievements in their struggle against their exploiters and oppressors. We must counter the lies and falsehoods peddled by the mainstream media, whether government-owned or corporate-owned, their press lords and their prestitues (you know what I mean).
Isulong ang Migrante International!
Mabuhay ang sambayanang Pilipino!