Question & Answer with Bernadette Ellorin, Secretary General of BAYAN USA
Questions by Jacqueline Ng Fernandez, The Coalition for Revitalization of Asian American Studies (CRAASH)
Q. What does your organization stand for?
BAYAN USA is the first overseas territorial chapter of BAYAN Philippines, a national alliance of hundreds of people's organizations in the Philippines, representing mainly the interests of workers and farmers as well as other democratic sectors. BAYAN is a multi-sectoral campaign center for its member organizations. Its range of activities include forums, seminars, lobbying, pickets, marches, demonstrations and people's strikes. BAYAN as an alliance was largely responsible for building broader coalitions in the Philippines that eventually ousted former Philippine presidents Marcos in 1986 and Estrada in 2001 as well as the US military bases Subic and Clarke in 1991.
In the US, there are 12 organizations that are members of BAYAN that make up BAYAN USA.
Q. Why were you protesting outside the Hilton on June 26th?
We were protesting, and encouraging others to join us, because President Arroyo's agenda in the US is to secure more US financial aid to supply for death squads in the Philippines. She is so unpopular with the people that she has to resort to killing and abducting the opposition to stay afloat. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the World Council of Churches (WCC), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI), have all denounced the pattern of extrajudicial killings and abductions under the Arroyo administration for years before now.
In 2007, a US Senate hearing on the Philippine human rights situation led to the withholding of $2 million dollars in US military aid contingent upon the Arroyo government's adherence to recommendations of UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, who claimed the Philippine military was in a "state of denial" over its perpetration of rampant human rights violations in the Philippines.
Given the declared disapproval of the US legislative branch on the Arroyo administration, the desperate Arroyo regime is targeting the US executive branch for financial favors. The Philippines is historically the 4th largest recipient of US military aid. That is why we are protesting, especially as Filipino-Americans, because any form of US government aid to foreign countries comes from US tax dollars. So really, all taxpayers in the US should disapprove of Arroyo.
Q. Do you believe that GMA is the problem or the people around her influence her decision-making?
Arroyo is the current face of a larger problem-- we call it bureaucrat capitalism, also known as traditional politics or "trapo" which is historically corrupt, elitist, and anti-poor.
We have no illusion that removing Arroyo or any president will immediately solve the Filipino people's deeper problems, but it's a start of a longer struggle for change. But for sure, as long as she is still president, the problem will persist.
Q. Why do you believe that GMA is such a corrupt President?
Because the facts don't lie. Government expenditures have been audited and documented.
80% of all Filipinos live below in poverty and underemployment, and the economic situation is growing worse. The scandalous ZTE-NBN Broadband deal put the Arroyo regime on the offensive. The bad economic deal exposed corruption from the Malacanang seat and spawned more scandals involving blatant bribery. Several government officials have already come forward with the direct experiences being bribed by Malacanang to quell the heat on Malacanang on the following:
Bribe money paid to former Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos – $130 million
Cost of bribe attempt to CHED Commissioner (dating NEDA Chief) Romulo Neri- P200 million
For the quelling of the fake impeachment case filed against Arroyo:
Cost of bribe attempt to Anakpawis Rep. Crispin 'Ka Bel' Beltran – P2 million – P5 million
"Cash gift" given to Pampanga Gov. 'Among Ed' Panlilio – P200,000
"Cash gift" given to Manila Rep.Bienvenido Abante – P500,000
"Cash gifts" to 196 other congressmen, governors, mayors (distributed in brown paper bags): P200,000-P500,000
Misused/unaccounted charity funds, donations for victims of calamities, and other funds of the Office of the President (according to the Commission on Audit or COA):
Cost of undistributed textbooks by the Department of Education – P329 million
Cost of undistributed/unaccounted cash advances for government officials, employees and local government units – P615 milyon or
P77 million for officials
P29.5 million for employess
P508 million for 'other receivables'
Cost of unaccounted loans disbursed by the Presidential Social Fund (from profits of the Philippine Amusement ang Gaming Corporation or PAGCOR) – P269 milyon or
P216 million for the "Isang Bayan, Isang Produkto, Isang Milyon" project of the Office of the President
P53 million of disbursed loans unaccounted for
Cost of donations and charity funds received by the Office of the President – P65 million or
P7.1 milyon for victims of the Southern Leyte landslide
P35.6 million for the Office of the President's Socio-Economic Projects
P20 million for relief and rehabilitation of Albay
But according to COA diverted to -
Burial expenses – P795,000
Hotel expenses – P815,000
Beautification of the Malacanang Golf Course – P900,000
Summit conferences – P3 million
Donation to an undisclosed foundation – P4 million
Cost of 'improperly recorded' funds earmarked for LGUs, government corporations and pro-administration non-government organizations – P112 million
Cost of the President's trust fund named the President Social Fund-Livelihood Assistance Program in the Land Bank of the Philippines – P48.9 million Cost of unaccounted expenses for office supplies acquired by the Office of the President – P70 million
Cost of expenses of the Office of the President submitted as inventory to the COA – P14 million or
P726,339.39 – merchandise
P264,155.15 – drugs, medicines
P152,286.56 – medical, dental, and laboratory supplies
P3,511,843.18 – gasoline, oil, lubricants
P8,788,899.79 – other supplies
P52,474.00 – livestock
Not to mention this very lavish US tour is the most expensive junket yet for the Arroyo administration, at a time of disaster and devastation for those hit hard by Typhoon Frank in the Philippines.
Q. Several people from inside the Hilton said that your organizations are always upset about something and that protesting doesn't lead to a solution. What is your response?
Would they say the same thing to Black people in the US whose ancestors were once slaves, or women in the US who at one point had no right to vote? These victories of humanity came only from protest movements.
What is wrong to protest against Marcos and Estrada? History clearly illustrates that these protest movement are popular movements carrying the genuine sentiments of the people, that is why they were successful in removing corrupt presidents.
People who claim protests don't lead to a solution either have never studied history or are in bed with the Arroyo clique and are trying to protect their own narrow interests and demonize the inevitable.
Q. In an email you said that GMA does not acknowledge the rice problem in the Philippines. However, in her speech at the Hilton she said that she has a projected plan for the Philippines to produce its own rice in 5 years, with the help of foreign investments. What is your response to her proposed plan?
Her plan won't work precisely because it relies on rice importation and foreign investments. The root of the rice problem is not in the availability of foreign rice or foreign economic intervention, but in the internal structural inefficiency of the agricultural sector in the Philippines. The Philippines is not self-sufficient in its food production, but import-dependent instead. Until such time the backward framework of farming in the Philippines is resolved with industrialization and agricultural modernization and forced land conversion is scrapped, agricultural productivity will remain low and there will always be a food crisis in the Philippines.
Q. Several Fil-Am WWII vets were inside. What is your opinion of GMA's lobbying for the WWII vet bill? Is she doing an effective job?
The WWII Veterans struggle is over six decades old. There is no excuse for it being this long. In fact, it is a crime against humanity because the vets are dying everyday impoverished because they are without their deserved benefits. Arroyo's actions at this point, however token they are, will never heal the historically collective wound on the WWII veterans, it's too deep.
We also believe Arroyo is using the veterans' struggle as a ruse to cover up her main agenda of asking for US financial aid. She is shamelessly taking advantage of the veterans' struggle to advance a narrow agenda.
Q. Someone said that it is sad that GMA did not go back to the PI when Typhoon Frank happened, but forgave her because she is in America for the 80 million Filipinos who need a stronger economy versus the 800 who have passed. What is your response to that statement?
That's false. The Philippine economy is weak not because of lack of investment, but because of internal malfunctioning. We do need a stronger economy, but not one dependent mainly on remittances of overseas Filipino workers for sustenance. We need a strong economy based on self–suffiency rather than dependency on foreign resources. This means we need to build up our industrial base to provide jobs for Filipinos, instead of force them to go abroad. We also need to reform the agricultural sector with more input from farmers themselves so that agricultural productivity is high and efficient for export AND domestic consumption.
Arroyo is more interested in saving her unpopular administration from popular removal with the backup of the US government, than what the needs of 80 million Filipinos are. If that were remotely true, she should admit there is a food crisis and resolve it accordingly, rollback the price of oil and other basic commodities, implement genuine agrarian reform, industrialize the cities to create more jobs so that an average of 3000 Filipinos don't choose to migrate every day to survive poverty, raise the minimum wage across the board nationwide, push the US troops out of the Philippines, etc.
These are the popular demands of the 80 million Filipinos she claims to attend to. It's no wonder that surveys show more than 80% of all Filipinos disapprove of Arroyo as president.
Q. Lastly, what is your name...
Q. ...and title?
Secretary General, BAYAN USA