Friday, July 30, 2010

Toronto events mark vigilance on Morong 43 and Noynoy administration

Dyan Ruiz
The Philippine Reporter

On Saturday, July 24, Filipino-Canadians showed their vigilance in support for the Morong 43 through a fundraiser barbeque and they presented their own people’s version of the State of the Nation Address (SONA) with a talk and discussion led by Dr. Chandu Claver, Chairperson of Bayan Canada.


The Morong 43 are health care workers whose training seminar was raided on Feb. 6, 2010 and have been illegally detained since.

Ramon Grajo hosted the event at his Scarborough residence. He said the Morong 43 are people who decided to battle against the “collapsing” health care in the Philippines by providing it to people in the provinces. By arresting the Morong 43, the authorities are “sowing terror amongst people who are doing community development work.”

He stated, the country is “losing 2,000 doctors a year,” spending six times more on the military, and international loan payments are hampering the budgets of social services.

The fundraiser was organized by the Scarborough Federation of Filipinos (SCARFF) and was initiated when Ms. Norma Dollaga, General Secretary of the Kasimbayan and Secretariat for the People’s International Observers’ Mission (PIOM) spoke in Toronto on June 21. She expressed there was an urgent need for funds for the Morong 43 and their families.

The attendance of Neethan Shan, who is running for City Councillor in Scarborough, was a continuation of the “ripple effect” initially inspired when he saw the film Dukot about forced disappearances and extra-judicial killings in the Philippines. It was then that he met Melissa Roxas, a Filipino American who claims Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) abducted and tortured her. Shan organized a BBQ fundraiser for Roxas’s medical expenses, which was also a cross-cultural exposure to the human rights abuses in the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Grajo said the fundraiser for Roxas inspired the Morong 43 fundraiser.


Federal NDP candidate, Rathika Sitsabaiesan, wore the necklace given to her by the women detainees when she visited them in the Manila jail last May. She said in an interview at the fundraiser, “meeting them added layers of intimacy. It became my case, something I needed to do.”

The authorities “did not seem to discriminate” as Sitsabaiesan recalled that the detainees were young and old, and included two pregnant women. Judilyn Carina Oliveros gave birth to a baby boy on July 22 amongst appeals to extend the three days to week leave from detention allowed for her and her baby. The fundraiser included a guitar performance by local activist musician Levy Abad.

One attendee, Erin Atendido spoke of the precedence established by former Pres. Cory Aquino. “Historically Noynoy’s mom, after coming into power in 1986, released all political prisoners.” Said Grajo: “The only thing needed to release them is sufficient international political will.”

Vigilance for the victims of human rights abuses in the Philippines was also shown at the event called “State of the Nation: the People’s Agenda” later the same day. The event was organized by Bayan Canada and held at the OISE building on Bloor St W. It was held in anticipation of the State of the Nation address by Noynoy to be held two days later “to push the agenda of the people” said Dr. Claver, the headline speaker.

In his speech, he spoke of the poverty and lack of jobs of the masses that push many to Canada and elsewhere, and the human rights abuses under Arroyo.

“More than a thousand killed and more than 200 abducted never to be seen again - a product of a mad counter-insurgency policy called Oplan Bantay Laya. And then during the first month of the new president’s term, five more are killed. The instruments of the State have gone overboard with the killings, abductions and the filing of false charges.”

Claver’s wife, Alyce, died in an extra-judicial killing when their car was riddled with bullets near their daughter’s school in Kalinga in 2006. Claver narrowly escaped with his life. He was an advocate for land rights for indigenous people.



A documentary about their story, “Philippines: Waging War on the People,” was shown. He and his three daughters have moved to Canada and were approved for refugee status this past March. In an interview before his speech he stated, “nobody was prosecuted, parang walang nangyari” (like nothing happened).

He also said he does not blame Noynoy personally for the extra-judicial killings in his presidency, stating the policy existed before his administration. It was “the military apparatus that was carrying the policies. We hope he will do something about that.”

Malcolm Guy, director and producer of the documentary addressed the audience. “Political assassinations are not done in the dark of the night. They are done in full daylight, in front of your house, school, children. What’s the point? To send a message. If you stand up for your rights, your life will be in danger. Like the Bayan Muna person just killed. Who’s the message for? To the people, the president? I think it’s both.”

Joe Calugay who leads human-rights based organizations in Ottawa told the audience his hopes for change come from “the people on the ground who organize” not from the elite or government, or Aquino who is part of the landlord class.

The event also included cultural performances, a poetry reading, and messages of solidarity from the Tamil and Latin American communities.


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