Monday, November 12, 2007


Note: The following text is a speech prepared and delivered by NAFCON's legal advisor Atty. Arnedo Valera, who also serves as the Executive Director of the Migrant Heritage Commission, NAFCON's member organization in Virginia. It was delivered last weekend at a National Filipino-American Leaders' Summit in Las Vegas.

Organizers of the Las Vegas Summit


By: Arnedo S. Valera, Esquire
Legal Counsel – NAFCON

I have decided to rename my title to MAKING OUR COMMUNITY OF VOICES INTO COLLECTIVE DEMAND FOR JUSTICE to be more specific and set out the theme of what I will be talking about today.

Allow me to begin by saying that the issue about the ABC TV episode's "Desperate Housewives" has once again awakened us with one thunderous voice of indignation - proof that Filipinos in the United States have common grounds for unity and action. For weeks following the episode's showing last September, Filipino immigrants and U.S.-born Filipinos many of them professionals like doctors, nurses, and lawyers took to the streets to stage protest pickets, as well as sign online statements, issue news releases, and organize forums. For its part, the NATIONAL ALLIANCE FOR FILIPINO CONCERNS (NAFCON), MIGRANT HERITAGE COMMISSION and its affiliate organizations throughout the U.S., took the stand that the short "apology" issued through email by the ABC management was inversely proportional to the racial slur that damaged the integrity and competence of Filipino professionals and institutions and henceforth, the nationwide alliance moved and called for the boycott of all ABC-Disney products unless TV network issued a real apology and adopted concrete measures to ensure that the incident will not happen again.

I believe, likewise, that the ABC racial spat episode should be seen as essentially an immigration issue because of its broader implications on the rights of Filipinos particularly the medical professionals and workers. It disparaged and damaged the career, rights, and future practice of the medical professionals, with an element of racial prejudice because it singled out the Filipinos as a whole. It was entirely farcical for ABC to talk about the unreliability of Filipino medical professionals when their competence and compassionate care for millions of patients not only in the U.S. but in other countries is known all over the world. Lies are lies, and it is legally and morally dangerous to use them as a butt of joke or a satire especially against a nationality.

It is, moreover, unconscionable for the Philippine government to accept ABC's short apology especially because the acceptance was issued contrary to the sentiments of many Filipinos in the U.S. and in the Philippines who were demanding justice and redemption in form and substance proportional to the injustice committed and in the same international and public venue – the TV network – used by the company to inflict the racial slur. This is a government that we know whose economic survival depends on the remittances of overseas Filipinos yet is short of performance when it comes to defending the hardworking Filipinos' rights and ministering to their needs in their countries of destination.

The ABC controversy is just one of many incidents – which are largely unreported – of racial prejudice, racial profiling, wage discrimination, unjust employment terms and conditions, and other acts of injustice that many of our fellow migrants in the U.S. suffer. That is why there is all the more reason for the Filipino-American communities to face up to these threats to our democratic and immigration rights, for these to galvanize us into action, and to be engaged in united though diverse forms of action. For instance, various organizations in the U.S., such as the Philippine Forum, the New York Committee on Human Rights in the Philippines, NAFCON, and the Migrant Heritage Commission have taken the cudgels of the Sentosa 27 nurses who face the threats of criminal convictions and deportation even if they were the ones victimized by illegal recruitment and unjust labor conditions. The deteriorating state of human rights in the Philippines, characterized by the spate of extra-judicial killings that resulted in the death of nearly 890 social activists, human rights volunteers, lawyers, health activists, church leaders, and other victims, from 2001 to the present is another issue that engages these U.S.-based organizations in coordination with human rights organizations and institutions in the Philippines and elsewhere. One other concern that has drawn the outrage of these organizations as well as other groups and communities in the United States is the corruption that continues to infest high officials of the Philippine government. Some of the most recent graft and corruption cases such as the ZTE national broadband scam and the multi-million "brown bag" bribery involving some members of Congress and local government officials have brought us to the realization about how rotten the government has become even as the country's economy has become irremediably stagnant, with the poor becoming poorer and the wealth more and more concentrated in a few families. Cases like these that involve the office of the presidency have made the Philippines the second country in Asia with the highest incidence of corruption. Until now, there are no exact figures how much of the remittances sent to the Philippines by Filipinos abroad in billions of dollars every year is lost to government corruption.

The remittances that overseas Filipinos, including us immigrants in the United States, send to our families and relatives in the Philippines may provide short-term economic relief to them or even as a fallback income for some of us who eventually will spend our retirement in our country of roots. But we know for a fact that the long-term stability and a secure future for our unfortunate brothers and sisters back home can only be ensured under a situation where the people are able to take control of their own economic future and under a government that truly represents the interests and aspirations of its broad constituencies.

It is under these circumstances that I invite you to look again at the current situation of the Philippine society which, I believe, is in a state of transition, where people are beginning to question the wisdom of maintaining a government – not only a President – that is beginning to lose its credibility; where the system of check and balance, as represented by Congress, does not function because the institution is itself plagued by corruption while it only maintains itself virtually as a social club for political dynasties; where the election continues to be just a fraudulent process of recycling the reign of power of the same political dynasties that have been in control of government for generations and decades; and where the dire economic conditions are driving people to leave everyday in their thousands in search of jobs in other countries. We cannot, I believe, insulate ourselves from the unjust rule and social injustice that continue to confront the Filipino people; or turn our backs while millions of our people face poverty or die in the process of advocating for reform.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a growing number of Filipino-American organizations working to lend their voice and support to the daily demands for economic rights and social justice back home, even as they also increasingly are involved in the defense of immigration rights and other issues here in the United States. Sometimes, their issues are inter-linked with the advocacy movements of other ethnic groups, such as in the fight for immigration rights where big Filipino contingents have marched in the streets alongside hundreds of thousands of immigrants. In the cases of the "Desperate Housewives" episode and Sentosa 27, the advocacy actions have elicited the support and participation not only of Filipino doctors and nurses but also other professionals , other service sectors, including lawyers. All these only show that issues and concerns that unite many Filipinos galvanize us to attend forums and other venues of discussions as well as into the streets for pickets and marches that serve to articulate our protests and demands for justice not only to the public but also to the media so that the voices are heard by thousands and even millions of people here and in the Philippines as well. It is through collective demands and unity such as these that Filipino expatriates in the United States gave effective support to the anti-Marcos dictatorship movement in the Philippines that was sparked by the assassination of Ninoy Aquino and culminated in the ouster of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, as well as in the removal of the morally-bankrupt Estrada presidency in 2001.

At this point, I would like to say something about the concept of "constructive dialogue" in relation to the "Desperate Housewives" issue. The framework of "constructive dialogue" had been pushed supposedly in the spirit of drawing a "win-win" situation requiring, however, the cessation of peaceful pickets and other protest actions against the ABC TV network. What happened was that, "constructive dialogue," designed to be held behind closed doors, led to giving certain concessions (e.g., promise of jobs and employment opportunities Filipino artists) that, in effect, diluted the Filipino communities' agitation for a real apology and other concrete measures and, hence, essentially led to the unsatisfactory resolution of the issue about racial prejudice. "Constructive dialogue," as a mechanism for resolving an issue, may be valid in a situation where the aggrieved party, for instance, is an individual. However, the injustice committed in the "Desperate Housewives" issue is racial prejudice, and the victims are a whole country. Cries of indignation, demands for apology, and calls for boycott came from Filipinos based not only in the U.S. but also in the Philippines and many other countries. They were asking for justice and redemption, not job opportunities, and certainly they were expecting the demand for justice to be dealt with transparently where the sentiments of millions of Filipinos are heard and heeded. To insinuate that pickets, calls for boycott, and class suits are not "constructive" or "proactive" is to deny the aggrieved people their freedom of speech and to use other forms of avenues in seeking redress within the bounds of the law. To hold a "constructive dialogue" within the closed walls of the global company that committed the racial slur is to restrict our collective articulation of protests to a select few. Let us be reminded that justice is never given or begged for, you have to fight for it even if the one that stole it from you is a global enterprise with a powerful communication network.

This is also why, even if we support the initiation of class suits in the continuing quest for justice, the avenues for articulating our protest and indignation should remain open. More so, if the class suit being filed is against a company that has unlimited resources under a justice system that is not always favorable to the actual victims of injustice. Alternative lawyering and legal resources approach emphasizes going beyond the usual court centered approach, emphasizing our ethnic collective interests and recognizing the importance of combining two or all forms and courses of action to achieve justice and redemption.

Today, our collective demand for justice and other issues should also welcome any moral, legal, and political support from other organizations in the spirit of solidarity and on the basis of mutually accepted principles. But the leadership of our campaign against ABC should remain in our own hands and collective efforts as members of the Filipino-American community, and those ready to assist us voluntarily and without any pre-conditions should uphold this leadership and initiative. This is a defining moment of Filipino American Empowerment, let us cherish it and move forward.

Let me close with an anecdote about two lifelong friends, a chicken and a pig, who were going on their usual morning work together. The pig turned to the chicken and asked "What do you think we should have for breakfast today? Quick as a flash, the chicken answered: "Bacon and Eggs" The Pig said, hey wait a minute!! You only want to participate, yet from me you expect total commitment.

In making our community of voices into a collective demand for justice in this campaign, we need to render total and complete commitment … no less…

Sa inyong lahat, Isa pong makabuluhan at mapayapang araw. Mabuhay ang lahat ng ating mga doctor at pangkalahatang mangagawa sa sector ng kalusugan…….Mabuhay ang Migranteng Pilipino……