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We are not separate from each other. If we take a simple product, such as a scented candle - note that the wax, wick, and essential oils are manufactured in different parts of the world; the global political economy connects us all. In the community organizing circles I’ve been a part of in San Jose, CA the fantasy vision is an international working class revolution. Similarly to the candle, creating wide-spread change cannot happen without intention, hard work, and of course, time. One cannot decide who or what comprises a community, but it takes strategy, commitment, and honestly, all of us working together to protect the most vulnerable. A splendid example is the work being done by Filipino organizers in Santa Clara County on the Philippine Human Rights Act (PHRA).
In September 2020, Susan Wild (D-PA-7) introduced The Philippine Human Rights Act (H.R. 8313) to the United States House of Representatives. In essence, the act suspends U.S. military aid to the Philippines until the Philippine Government addresses and responds to the human rights violations. The original cosponsors of the bill are local Santa Clara County representatives, congressional representative Ro Khanna (D-CA-17) and congressional representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA-19). Over 90,000 Filipinos are living in Santa Clara County, many of them with families and friends still living in the Philippines.
Recently, Santa Clara County’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) hosted a public hearing on whether or not to pass a resolution supporting the PHRA. On October 27, a warm pandemic Tuesday evening, Santa Clara County’s HRC voted unanimously in passing a resolution to support the PHRA; California State Assembly members Ash Kalra (CA-27) and Rob Bonta (CA-18) announced their support of the resolution and the PHRA. Community organizers from LEAD Filipino, Mayla Movement South Bay, and Kabataan Alliance initially approached Santa Clara County Board President, Supervisor Cindy Chavez to ask for her support of the PHRA. The collective worked with Dr. Justin Boren, the chair of Santa Clara County’s HRC for its next steps in writing and presenting a resolution to the commission for consideration. The pieces needed for the resolution to be written, PHRA created, and relationships mobilized is rooted in years of intention and work by activists in the United States and internationally.
Most activists understand on one level or another, they are putting their bodies and lives on the line each time they take action in building momentum against an established government regime, even overseas. President Duterte’s Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 allows for the Duterte’s Administration’s Anti-Terror Council to designate individuals as terrorists and publish their names on government websites and newspapers. Under The ATL’s implementing rules and regulations, there is an inclusion on extraterritorial application that has led to a practice called “terror tagging” or “red tagging”. Shortly after the Santa Clara HRC’s public hearing, panelist and expert witness Adrian Bonifacio, chairperson of Anakbayan-USA, was terror tagged by the Facebook Page, “For the Global Public” (listen more in an interview at PFA 94.1 at 43:45 here). Anyone attempting to publicly criticize the Duterte Administration is labeled a communist terrorist and subject to defamation and targeting by the Philippine Government. As a Black and Filipina woman, Meredith Curry, owner of AdvancED Consulting has concerns that this article, written in partnership and in friendship with myself, will put unwanted attention on us and our loved ones. Because you don’t actually have to be Filipino to be in danger, as proven by countless victims including Brandon Lee, a Bay Area native who was critically injured after an attempted assassination in 2016.
Duterte’s regime has targeted more well-known Filipinos as well, such as the red-tagging of Miss Universe 2018, Catriona Gray, and Santa Clara-born actress, Liza Soberano. If you read the linked article, you’ll see that threats of violence were made towards women who were taking part in an online discussion advocating for the rights of women and girls. General Parlade stated to Liza Soberano, a participant in the online discussion, “There’s still a chance to abdicate that group” otherwise she would “suffer the same fate” as Josephine Ann Lapira, a young activist killed in a 2017 battle between the military and the Communist Rebels, The New People’s Army (Oct 2020). According to Malaya Arevalo, the National Secretariat of the Malaya Movement and expert witness at the Santa Clara HRC public hearing, 13 human rights workers, 17 journalists, 50 lawyers and judges, 113 environmental activists, and 259 farmers have been killed since Duterte took office - without counting the 30,000 casualties with Duterte’s war on drugs.
During the Santa Clara County HRC public hearing, a member of the committee asked how the PHRA would affect the lives of Filipino-Americans. There were several answers to this, one being that it would be safer for undocumented Filipinos to seek help without fear of being deported. Another would be freedom of speech, a right protected in America and yet unavailable to its brothers and sisters living in another country. America has long touted its reasons for military presence and occupation of other countries as defending democracy and freedom, but we won’t get into that here. The point is, the PHRA is in alignment with the American values of freedom, liberty, and justice, without needing to use its military force. The United States is a powerful country, not only because of their military resources but also because of its wealth and influence; it would be unpatriotic to witness the suffering of other Americans, their friends and family, without stepping in and supporting a non-violent response to stop a violent situation.
The red tagging/terror tagging of other Americans without a response of support from the United States is a precedence we do not want to set. The Philippine sovereignty needs to be accountable to its people, especially if it is an ally of the United States as a defender of freedom; we should work together to make the world better for citizens living in both countries. The letter Susan Wild (D-PA-7) used to gather support for the PHRA from her peers succinctly gives information about the PHRA and how it will work, as well as previous legislative efforts made by Barbara Boxer, a previous California Senator.
Effective community organizing involves everyone in the community. The diasporic Filipinx community has included in its organizing, all levels of government in the United States in conjunction with the national and international efforts of International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP), GABRIELA, LEAD Filipino, Mayla Movement, Kabataan Alliance, amongst the many others involved. Much of the movement is fueled by the passion of student activists and young people who care deeply about families, communities, and true freedom. I identify as Vietnamese American and look to these folks as an example of unity and resilience as they continue to fight for their people despite the barriers and dangers of organizing against the Duterte Regime.
If you would like to do more to support the PHRA:
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