An Ordinary Person

Demand the Release of Labor Lawyer in the Philippines

October 25, 2008

Breaking news on the human rights front in the Philippines. Veteran labor lawyer and columnist Remigio Saladero was reported to have been abducted this week from his home which his family found ransacked. He was confirmed to be held by the military at Camp Vicente Lim.

According to the International Labor Rights Forum:

Mr. Saladero is being charged with conspiracy to commit rebellion and murder for allegedly participating in an undisclosed murder in Mindoro; charges such as these are becoming increasingly more common tactic used by the government as it steps up its legal attacks against civil society organization in the Philippines, politicians, church leaders and labor activists, who speak out against the policies of President Arroyo.

According to blogger Tonyo Cruz:

Last year, Saladero represented the Kilusang Mayo Uno (a Philippine political opposition group) before the Supreme Court in a suit that challenged the constitutionality of the terrorist law signed by President Arroyo.

Most recently, Saladero was involved in combating anti-union activities at the multinational Dole Philippines. The International Labor Rights Forum intervened in a case at the United States Trade Representative, asking that the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) not grant Dole Foods any additional trade benefits until the Philippine military ends its attacks on the elected trade union at Dole’s Philippines facilities. Saladero was a key member of the legal team representing Dole’s workforce.

The International Labor Rights Forum urges concerned people to take action at their web site:

Please take action now to tell the U.S and Philippine governments that the world is watching.  We are asking the Philippines government to release Atty. Remigio Saladero, drop the charges levied against him as a pretext for his detention, AND create an independent investigating team to investigate the threats and intimidation to the Pro-labor Legal Assistance Center.

Take Action Now

Blog Action Day: Poverty in the Philippines

October 15, 2008

Yesterday, I got an e-mail to participate in Blog Action Day on the theme of poverty in the Philippines. I couldn’t help but wonder what I can contribute to the conversation, being that I am no economist and therefore, cannot offer solutions based on expertise on economic matters.

The topic of poverty in the Philippines is also not a topic that touches me on a day-to-day basis in my urban, middle-class life in the U.S. It is not that I live in a bubble — it is that the realities of the problems of my homeland can seem very far away as I negotiate the  personal and professional struggles in my life. Once in a while, though, the topic rears its head and I am forced to take a long, hard look at who I am as someone who comes from a Filipino heritage and who maintains close personal and political ties with folks back home.

Such as the time about a year ago when some Filipino-American colleagues and I presented a mini-workshop on the Philippines via Powerpoint at a brown bag lunch event. It was a lot of fun introducing our multicultural, American colleagues to things like folk dances, celebrities, tourist spots and other aspects of Filipiniana. But the light-hearted atmosphere was jarred a bit and turned serious when one of my colleagues asked why the Philippines remains a poor, Third World country. Doesn’t it have a democratic form of government, she asked?

I really didn’t have a sufficient and ready answer for her that would satisfy her curiosity. In hindsight, if she were to ask me that question now in a more thoughtful moment, I probably still would not have a ready answer that I could rattle off in five minutes or so and that would be satisfactory in explaining the situation in the Philippines to someone who is unfamiliar and not very attuned to Philippine history, society, politics and culture.

How do I explain the history of colonialism under Spain, Japan and America — and especially how the current relationship between the Philippines and America often replicate a colonial model where the hegemon has a tremendous influence in the internal affairs of how the politics and economics of how the Philippines conducts its business?

She mentioned a vague reference to corruption but how do I explain corruption that permeates every level of Philippine society — but do it in such a way that shows not every Filipino is corrupt? And in fact, that there are decent people working in government and business? And that focusing in corruption as the index to why a country is poor is itself, a poor model and explanation for poverty? There is, after all, corruption even in rich countries such as the U.S.

She mentioned democracy as if it could be a salve to what ails Philippine society. But how do I explain that the way she might recognize democracy through American eyes might be very different in the Philippine setting.

How do I explain that there are decent, honest people who are fighting to rid the Philippines of corruption, poverty and inequality — that a lot of them even have organized themselves into political parties and advocacy groups and networks? How do I explain that there are opposition groups who try to affect change in Philippine society through the political process, but any true expression of Filipino independence and self-interest will not be allowed to blossom to its full, logical conclusion by its former colonizer, the U.S., who sees the Philippines as being a strategic cog in its worldwide strategy of political and economic dominance. The U.S. has and always will back the elites who promise to protect its geopolitical interests, and will oppose any nationalist, democratic movements which seek to end this unequal relationship.

This is the struggle that I face as a Filipino-American living in the U.S. On one hand, like everyone else, I just want to get along with my colleagues and just go about my day-to-day business without too much hassle and stress. On the other, I am acutely attuned to the current climate of intolerance and heightened sense of national insecurity in American society. I do not consider myself a militant or even anti-American. But there is no way to really know Philippine history and society and the wider, systemic causes of why it remains a poor country without recognizing the role that American hegemonic dominance and how Filipino elites in politics and business appeal to and seek to ingrain themselves to that dominance so that they, themselves, will be the dominant group in their corner of the world.

So if one were to ask me why the Philippines remains a poor country I would have to tell them that the answer to that question is complicated. My idea on the way out of Third World status — it will be complicated as well. It involves Filipinos developing a sense of militant nationalism and a desire to better themselves and uplift the nation. But it will come at a cost of opposing the geopolitical interests of its former colonizer. My only hope is that the presence of me and millions of Filipinos already living in the U.S. can have an influence in the U.S. getting out of the way when a nationalistically-minded Philippines decides — united as a people — to pursue its own political and economic interests and thus, seek to shape its own destiny.

I certainly am no expert and being part of the diaspora, I know my perspective on Philippine affairs may be incomplete and limited. I welcome any comments and other feedback from folks who participated in Blog Action Day.

Rage Against the Dying of the Light

October 4, 2008
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Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

Rage by Filipino political activist rock band The Jerks (chorus inspired by the above poem)

An Ordinary Person’s View of the Bailout

October 3, 2008

The Mess We Are In

I am not an economist nor do I claim to be an expert on finance and economic matters. I am, however, an ordinary citizen, a voter, and a taxpayer who is being asked to bear the brunt of paying for the mess created by the greed, irresponsibility, and recklessness of those who made out like bandits in the deregulated atmosphere of the financial system for decades.

When I make mistakes with my money and finances, or if me and my family get into financial trouble we don’t get a bailout. But now we, the taxpayers are being asked to do that very thing — supposedly, for the sake of the country’s financial well-being and survival — at the behest of those who created the conditions for the financial crisis and who mismanaged the economy in the first place.

Voting on the Bailout

I opposed the bailout as it was originally drafted and which was defeated in the House of Representatives vote. There were many good reasons to oppose the original bill as this list from David Sirota points out.

After the bill was defeated in the House revisions were made to the legislation and a vote was taken in the Senate where it passed.

Regarding the second version of the bill, economist Paul Krugman agrees with James Galbraith’s assessment:

In short, as I said at the beginning, the bill is a vast improvement over the original Treasury proposal. Given the choice between approving or defeating the bill as it stands, I would urge supporting the bill. I do so without illusions. There need be no pretense that it will solve our underlying financial and economic problems. It will not. The purpose, in my view, is to get the financial system and the economy through the year, and into the hands of the next administration. That is a limited purpose, but a legitimate purpose. And it may be the most that can be accomplished for the time being.

Alternatives to the Bailout Are Out There

Contrary to leaders like Bush, Paulson, and leaders within the Congressional Republicans and Democrats that say pass the bailout as it stood or face certain catastrophe, there are alternatives to the bailout and I supported taking a good, long look at these alternatives and make them part of the criteria by which any bailout should be structured.

Here are a few examples from the Progressive sphere:

The Main Point

Paul Krugman and James Galbraith, among many other economists, agree that this latest revision of the bailout is, at best, a stopgap, band-aid gesture so that the economy does not collapse completely-for the short term. They estimate that short term being establishing the next administration after the November elections. For such an important bill and vote, that doesn’t inspire much confidence in me as a citizen.

Senator Bernard Sanders argues:

This bill does not effectively address the issue of what the taxpayers of our country will actually own after they invest hundreds of billions of dollars in toxic assets. This bill does not effectively address the issue of oversight because the oversight board members have all been hand picked by the Bush administration. This bill does not effectively deal with the issue of foreclosures and addressing that very serious issue, which is impacting millions of low- and moderate-income Americans in the aggressive, effective way that we should be. This bill does not effectively deal with the issue of executive compensation and golden parachutes. Under this bill, the CEOs and the Wall Street insiders will still, with a little bit of imagination, continue to make out like bandits.

This bill does not deal at all with how we got into this crisis in the first place and the need to undo the deregulatory fervor which created trillions of dollars in complicated and unregulated financial instruments such as credit default swaps and hedge funds. This bill does not address the issue that has taken us to where we are today, the concept of too big to fail.

And THAT’s the point. Any bailout or any solution to the financial mess we are in must address these underlying causes that led to the crisis in the first place. And nobody who is in a position of power or leadership seems to be listening to the glaringly obvious common sense of people like Sen. Sanders.

The bailout may very well pass the House on its second go round, but the underlying causes for the crisis will remain and will be unaddressed. As one of my friends put it to me in an e-mail:

There will be NO addressing of stronger regulatory action on Wall Street down the road. There will be no punitive measures against the speculators who caused this mess in the first place.  You will not see any Congressional checks on executive power from the Treasury Department.  There is NO later.  It doesn’t matter if it is McCain or Obama who sits in the White House either.

Once the bailout money jump starts the credit flows between the banks, all of the talk about changing the culture of Wall Street and reigning in the excesses of market capitalism will die away.  Finance industry lobbyists will shower members of Congress with un-reported gifts and reported campaign contributions. It’s business as usual once again.

The Final Word

So if you are in favor of the bailout there is good news for you in that momentum seems to be on the side of the Senate version passing the House. But you better not have any illusions that what you are supporting is THE solution to the crisis. I agree with the Krugman-Galbraith camp that says what the bill represents is, at best, a stopgap measure designed to have the economy limp its way along until the next administration is established.

I’m in the camp of Sanders and others who offered alternatives to the bailout and who argued that the underlying causes of the finance crisis must be addressed. The only reason the Progressive vision cannot be articulated into a viable alternative to the bailout as it was presented by Bush, Paulson, and Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders is that the Progressive movement does not have the political juice to set the agenda. That doesn’t mean they are wrong. That just means politically, they largely function in the margins and are not players.

Don’t let the debate begin and end along the terms of whether the bailout bill should be passed or not. The problem goes much deeper than that and doesn’t deserve to die down whether or not the bill passes.

    About Me

    A regular guy living in irregular times



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