Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rigodon de horror

Last April 28, the Filipino Centre Toronto (FCT) held its Presidents’ Gala at the posh Fairmont Royal York Hotel to pay tribute to heads of Filipino associations in Toronto and honour them for their support of FCT’s various programs. A Filipino community newspaper devoted its entire centrefold pages to the coverage of the said event with photos of all the FCT board members: the women in their dazzling ternos and the men in their embroidered barong Tagalog. As the FCT spokesperson put it, all the guests also came in “their attractive formals and Filipino ternos (also called mestiza dresses).”

The FCT Presidents’ Gala could be likened to the popular rigodon de honor of the olden days in the Philippines when the oligarchic elite celebrated the inauguration of the newly-elected President of the Republic in Malacañang Palace, a practice that has become part of Malacañang protocol from the time of President Manuel Quezon. During the Spanish colonial rule, this celebration was limited to members of the upper class and became the measure of who was who among the elite. When the Americans came, they continued the practice even when the occupant of Malacañang was an American Governor-General.
Rigodon de Honor. Follow link
to view FCT Presidents' Gala - Rigodon de Honor
Rigodon de honor is an elegant dance that traces its roots from the French quadrille and was brought to the Philippines by the Spaniards and adopted by wealthy Filipinos from their travels in Europe during the Spanish period. Among the wealthy Filipinos, the rigodon has become part of Filipino culture and has been de rigeur not only in formal balls but also during town fiestas.

FCT’s rigodon de honor has assembled the so-called Filipino elite in Toronto, to the exclusion of the ordinary Filipino folks who probably could not afford the stiff cost of buying a ticket to this biyearly glamorous event. Yet this was an affair by a community centre that is supposed to serve not only its catchment area, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Toronto, but also Filipinos in the metropolitan area who need assistance in settlement and search for employment and other services.

The president of the FCT in her thank-you note wrote that “the funds raised from this Gala went beyond expectations not only of the FCT Board of Directors, but FCT’s critics as well.” Speaking of critics, no community newspaper has published a word that was critical of the FCT Presidents’ Gala. The Gala raised more than $80,000 in revenues but spent more than half this amount to hold the event, more than $37,000 just to pay for the venue at the Fairmount Royal Hotel.

Naturally, the highlight of the evening’s gala was the women’s attire, one of which was reported as a blue terno with “scintillating see-through skirt from mid-thigh down.” Another was described as a “figure-hugging pink terno with a thigh-high side slit to expose a well-toned leg.” While another gown was touted as a “sleek black terno that had a contrasting white panel embellished with black trimmings that cascaded down from the waist behind.”

That women of a certain age would use the ruse of a ball to vie and compete for a shot at the limelight—dancing and swinging to every musical rendition of the rigodon de honor from the march to the waltz—escapes us. One might be tempted to say this was the equivalent of A Night with the Oscars except that the matrons were the ones parading in their showy haute couture instead of young and upcoming beautiful actresses.

Their photos on the newspaper’s centrefold evoked startling images of Doña Victorina, that pathetic fictional character in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere, the quintessential ambitious Filipina who thought of herself as more Spanish than a Spaniard by altering her looks through lightening her skin with the aid of cosmetics and hiding her Asian frame inside thick and heavy European dresses. The FCT spokesperson described the attire of the women who attended the gala as “mestiza” dresses, exactly the type of clothes Doña Victorina wore to reinvent herself.

In the January 22, 2012 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, a third-year high school student of Assumption Antipolo wrote that Rizal’s Doña Victorina could still be present today because like her, the consummate “social climber,” there are people who would be willing to do anything to get attention and respect. In her first-prize winning essay in the PreMYo Rizal Nationwide Essay Writing Contest for high school students, the young scribe wrote that Doctora Doña Victorina de los Reyes de Espadaña was the embodiment of pomp and frills, apparently very much like each and every woman who attended the FCT Presidents’ Gala.

Doña Victorina’s appearance, she wrote, “was an indication not just of her shallow nature but also her obsession with prestige and admiration. It was perhaps this obsession that fueled her lifelong effort to pretend to be something she was not—a Spanish woman.” She “contributed nothing to her society, just as the social climbers of today do nothing to help our society, as they step on each other to reach the highest pedestal.”

The young high school student finally wrote that “as we read about Victorina’s shallow desires, that there was a difference between appearing to be great and being truly great as a person, and that respect earned through petty, shallow means was not worth it. Esteem must be gained through sincerity, honesty and hard work.”

Rizal’s caricature of Filipino women (and this also applies to men) in Doña Victorina’s persona strikes a chord among Filipinos in the modern diaspora. Financial success abroad has changed many Filipino immigrants to think that they are now part of the oligarchy and the culture that it promotes. They now deem themselves members of “high society,” or people who have gained greater social status and prestige, a notch above their lowly compatriots. Having achieved newfound wealth or affluence, the new elite believes this sinecure entitles them to some degree of status within the community and society in general. Thus, having arrived, they can now form the retinue of dancers in a rigodon de honor. They have earned the right to become members of a privileged in-group.

But this elitist tendency fuels what historian and expert on Filipino culture Felipe de Leon calls the “Doña Victorina Syndrome” in us. Because of low self-esteem, many Filipinos at home and abroad tend to live in a cocoon of pretense and deception. Our new oligarchic Filipino elite in Toronto, who are not even true members of the upper economic class, clings to the shallow exhibition of their social status through dancing the rigodon de honor or holding “pa-bongga” celebrations to give importance to themselves and make others pay attention. Just like Doña Victorina of old, they hide under a thick paste of white powder and glittering ternos to flaunt their newfound status to the community.

Take for example the FCT programs which its organizers claim advance our image as an ethnic group in Toronto. It is not enough that FCT select its recipients of Young Entrepreneur and Professional Awards (YEPA) or its Outstanding Student Award. In addition to giving awards, FCT needs to invest its time and services in promoting and helping Filipino businesses to gain a foothold and prosper, such as providing them with effective social networks or conducting seminars and workshops on how to develop markets or sources of financing. As well, it must develop programs that help our youth gain true self-esteem and leadership skills.

On community outreach, what has FCT actually accomplished except owning and leasing its premises in Cabbagetown? Has its catchment area (St. Jamestown, Regent and Moss Park neighbourhood) actually benefited from FCT’s so-called community programs? Has FCT made its presence known in issues that affect the Filipino community at large such as immigration, employment, civic engagement, and political representation?

The truth is, FCT and other Filipino community organizations are silent on real issues that matter to ordinary Filipinos in the Greater Toronto Area, yet the FCT Presidents’ Gala and other similar balls make it appear as if they have accomplished a lot. If the Gala’s rigodon de honor and all the glitzy-clad women and men scurrying for attention or “pansin” are to be the indicator of our worth as a community, then our future is in horrible hands.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Community journalism

A transplanted journalist from San Diego recently wrote in his column in one of Toronto’s Filipino community newspapers that he thought “coverage of the Filipino community in the Greater Toronto Area is wanting in depth and substance.” The fault he said did not lie with the newspapers or their publishers but in the community’s desire for “flimsy coverage where they see only the fun and content side of their neighbourhood and friends.”

His hopes were to bring to Toronto his 16 years of experience in community journalism in San Diego with emphasis on adversarial investigative reporting. In other words, he plans to adopt the same journalistic perspective that is more skeptical in coverage rather than playing favourites. Reporting that focuses on exposing rogues in the community he says is his kind of journalism.

Though brash and quite audacious, however, this newsman’s 16 years of experience in San Diego pale in comparison with his now-adopted Toronto broadsheet which has been serving Toronto’s community since 1978, and with another equally perceptive paper which has been publishing for more than 21 years. Both papers were established by experienced journalists in the Philippines who brought with them a keen sense for news that the community ought to know.
A proliferation of Filipino community newspapers in Toronto. Photo by Romeo P.
Marquez. Click link to view
 "Tips From Bob Woodward on Investigative Journalism," as Woodward (half of
the famous duo who reported on the Watergate scandal) explains the three ways
journalists get their information and his comments on the future of in-depth
reporting in the digital age.
Investigative journalism is simply not about exposing the bad apples in the community. It is also about how to present news stories to help shape perceptions of the future of our community. It’s not enough to disrobe the crooks, scammers or swindlers but equally just as important to write stories that uncover the roots of injustice and unfairness in our society as a whole.

Take for example the aforementioned writer/columnist’s take on the allegations of irregularity in the running of beauty pageants by a certain community organization and his apparent single-minded focus on suspicions of wrongdoing. This not the true and ethical type of investigative reporting. It’s more like “gotcha” journalism. Putting a person on the defensive and casting unfounded suspicions can scare anyone to the point of yielding to pressure and owning up to something which he or she wasn’t responsible for in the first place. This is also a characteristic of the adversarial process that is most common in our legal system.

Granted investigative journalists must be unafraid and dog-minded in their pursuits, however, they must also ferret out the facts from painstaking enquiry—which involves gathering evidence from interviews, documents, records, proofs and intense paper work. Not simply from asking questions during a press conference and then to be content with making allegations of wrongdoing based on a few quick Q&As. This aforementioned writer/journalist did not embark on doing any of the fact-checking actions required of a professional investigative journalist. His stories came out merely from the oral proceedings of a press conference. This is far from the responsible journalism required of a real news gatherer: to write stories that could help shape or influence public opinion based on sufficient verification of facts or information. It is not enough to undress a scammer, one must also bear in mind the protection of those who are innocent.

In addition, a committed investigative journalist would go beyond allegations of financial wrongdoings of the pageant organizers. He or she would also question why the community needs to perpetuate values that promote a shameless subculture of holding beauty pageants, and whether they represent the best of our Filipino culture. In the final analysis, it is much more important for a journalist to influence the making of social change that will benefit the community as a whole, especially if this concerns promoting and preserving our values and traditions as a people.

Another recent example of so-called investigated journalistic work this so-called writer was his reportage on the protest held by Toronto supporters of the U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG) against China’s bullying tactics in the South China Sea dispute that involves the Philippines’ territorial claims to the Scarborough Shoal and to the Spratly Islands. By focusing his story more on the small turnout of protesters and describing it as “dull,” and therefore almost inconsequential, he made the protesters look even more pathetic by describing their excitement when the Toronto-based Chinese press arrived and the former obligingly posed for what he called “Kodak moments.” Instead of analyzing the futility of the protest from the perspective of mobilizing the community for political or social causes, this “investigative” writer conveniently focused on the obvious (small turnout) and sidestepped the bigger substantive issue of whether our Filipino folks in Toronto have fully grasped the arguments raised by China and the Philippines to support their respective claims.

Who then should be faulted with this kind of “adversarial” reporting?

Not the Filipino community who only wanted to read “flimsy coverage,” as this writer claimed. How can your community be responsible for the poor quality of journalism being catered to them? They do not report and analyze the news. All our local Filipinos newspapers in Toronto are free and our folks don’t pay to get their copies, so it seems rather disingenuous to blame them for influencing the type of news and stories they want to hear or read. Our local publishers are not selling the news to a segmented market of readers who would prefer to read only entertainment or see their photos plastered on the pages of community tabloids or stories with a particular slant that interests them.

Toronto is swamped with about 15 or so Filipino community newspapers. Obviously, it is a thriving business even if publishers compete for the same pool of advertisers. It’s also an indication of our community’s hunger and craving for news and stories, not just about what’s happening in the community but also in the home country as well. It really matters not if stories from the Philippines are reprints because they could be the first time that these stories are told to our folks in the community. The mainstream media rarely cover our community and stories from our home country while newspapers published in the Philippines are scarce in a foreign city if not unavailable most of the time.

One community newspaper, The Philippine Reporter, publishes reprints of opinions and critical observations of Filipino writers at home on many social and political issues which would never be available to our Toronto community if not through the dedication of this paper to bring them here. In addition to the paper’s own reportage on matters affecting migrants, human rights and social justice issues, the views and commentaries of our Filipino minds at home bring insights on the real causes of most of the issues that affect our community in Toronto. In many ways, our local issues in Toronto are also interconnected with issues at home and could be better understood if backstopped by firsthand analyses of our observers at home.

A culture of impunity in which only a handful of journalists' killers has
been penalized encourages more killings. Photo courtesy of cmfrphilippines.
No one has a monopoly of investigative journalism, certainly not by this former San Diego newspaperman. Substance and depth in news reporting is not achieved merely by exposing the crooks or shenanigans going on in our community. Exposé reporting on a wrongdoing for the sake of public indictment can sometimes denigrate into muckraking journalism, especially if ethics or expectations of fairness are ignored or taken very lightly.

In the final analysis, the true journalist has the responsibility to observe his or her written or unwritten code of ethics. Revealing scandals, infringement of laws or social morals is never easy. The principles of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fair play, and public accountability must be deeply ingrained in the mind and soul of the journalist.

As one freelance writer once said, “Investigative reporting uses objectively true material—that is, facts that any reasonable observer would agree are true—toward the subjective goal of reforming the world. That is not a license to lie in a good cause. It is a responsibility, to learn the truth so that the world can change.”

Thursday, May 17, 2012

False patriotism

The simmering dispute in the South China Sea between the Philippines and China has unfortunately divided the expat Filipino community in the U.S. and in Canada. All because the organizers of the Toronto protest against China’s bullying tactics last May 11 were disappointed by the turnout, which was so paltry that the organizers have now questioned the patriotism of the Filipino community.

Heated exchanges swamped the Internet between the rabid supporters of the Philippines’ claim and those perceived as against or maybe fence-sitting because they are either ambivalent or just didn’t care. To the point that doubts have been raised as to the true motives of the organizers and those who begged to differ were outrightly discredited for their irrelevant shortcomings in the past, not for the substance of their opinions.
Fight for freedom poster. Courtesy of Charles Pictures.
What is really appalling in the attitude of the protest organizers and their supporters is their idea of patriotism, in how one should express love of one’s country. If you are not with them on the Scarborough Shoal or Spratly dispute, you’re declared a coward, a deserter, a traitor, or an apologist for China. A Toronto protest-organizer even denigrated members of the Order of the Knights of Rizal for not meeting the test of nationalism when it counted. Some members of this group are older folks who fought the Japanese in World War II. With one sweeping generalization, the protest organizers stripped our local heroes of the valour and courage they had shown as patriotic Filipinos during the war. Because they did not show up during the China protest, these war heroes have suddenly turned into traitors and cowards by the chest-thumping new patriots. The South China Sea dispute should not be used as a wedge to divide the Filipino community, or worse, as a litmus test for one’s patriotism.

Listen to the words of Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario as he called for patriotism and sacrifice among Filipinos when he spoke about the Scarborough Shoal dispute recently: ““We need to get our people to bond together. We need to unite. We need to take a position of patriotism that what is ours is ours and we will stand for it. And it is possible that we may be tested and if we are tested, it is possible that everyone will need to make a sacrifice.”

Mr. Del Rosario’s words smack of patriotism at all costs, no matter what. This is exactly the type of patriotism demanded by the Toronto protest organizers and their followers, which is not patriotism but collective narcissism. What the USP4GG and its organizers in Toronto are asking every expatriate Filipino is a type of narcissism where one has an inflated self-love of his or her own group.

Patriotism and the call for people to rally around a social or political cause are oftentimes abused during times of conflict. It is easier to divide people into two or more groups when faced by a conflict of choice. When the subject of loyalty, particularly to one’s country is invoked, the easier it is to manipulate people’s emotions and this often clouds their decisions. It doesn’t matter which side is right or wrong, what really matters is you show your love for your country. The most important thing is to be a patriot – one whose ruling passion is the love of his or her country no matter what.

It is the false kind of patriotism that is being engendered by the Scarborough Shoal issue. The 18th century English author Samuel Johnson has described this sort of patriotism as the last refuge of the scoundrel. This is of course a pretty dangerous slur to throw around. One needs to have evidence to accuse someone of being a scoundrel but how often is this statement applied today to political and social movements.

If you happen to espouse a different view like junking the Mutual Defence Treaty between the Philippines and the United States because you believe in self-determination, you’re likely to be branded as pro-communist. If you insist on sending the U.S. troops out of the Philippines because you believe the Visiting Forces Agreement between the two countries is unfair and one-sided, you’re likely be deemed a supporter of the local insurgents and the Moro separatists. If you happen to think that the best way to resolve the South China Sea dispute is by mutual and peaceful negotiations between the countries involved because you believe the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) does not apply, then you’re likely be labeled as pro-China, unpatriotic and a deserter.

If you happen to be an immigrant in Canada and you blame the Philippine government for its failure to provide you with a decent job and a good standard of living for your family as the principal reason for leaving, then you’re likely be considered disloyal and disrespectful to your country of birth. If you happen to be in Canada and criticize the Aquino government for its complicity with human rights violations, like forced disappearances and extra-judicial killings, you’re likely be identified as a supporter of the National Democratic Front or the New People’s Army.

But if you are an overseas worker or a live-in caregiver in Canada and you happen to support the Aquino government despite its shortcomings and double-talk, you’re likely be hailed a new hero. If you joined the China protest in Toronto last May 11, you are a patriot and you have every right to blame the rest of the Filipino community for not showing up, including the right to call them cowards for their willingness to give up their land without a fight. And if it happened that you could not leave your work that day to be in the protest, you’re still a bleeping coward and have no love or affection for your motherland.

This is what Samuel Johnson meant by his famous quotation, “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” It’s easy to become a demagogue and appeal to loyalty to one’s own country in order to gain public approval and political power. Those who disagree are cast as unpatriotic and hostile to the interests of their own country. Honest disagreement becomes character assassination. Love it or leave it becomes a powerful political argument. Johnson should have written instead that patriotism is the last refuge of an idiot, for it is more likely to bump into patriotic idiots than patriotic scoundrels.
A famous quote from Samuel Johnson, "Patriotism the last refuge of a
scoundrel." Click image to view "Ron Paul: Patriotism is the last refuge
of a scoundrel,"
Patriotism is not love of country right or wrong. Certainly, it is far different from saber-rattling or chest-thumping. It is not patriotism at all when leaders blame the rest of the community for not showing up, but taking out one’s personal frustrations on others. It is a way of absolving oneself of responsibility for the failure to inform and mobilize the community to your cause.

Patriotism accommodates differences of opinions. It allows dissenting voices to be heard. One of the many slogans during the anti-Vietnam war movement in the Sixties is “dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” It is supporting the government when it is right and opposing it when wrong. It is not merely waving a flag, singing the national anthem or attending a rally.

Patriotism means loving your country, but not being blind to the truth.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

We love our country, too, stupid

Last Friday’s (May 11) “global protest” by Filipinos at home and expat Pinoys abroad against China’s bullying tactics in the South China Sea turned out to be more “local” than widespread judging by the measly number of people who attended. Even the “hakot” crowd of President Noynoy Aquino’s Akbayan Party-list supporters could only muster close to 300 souls in what was expected to be a big protest before the Chinese consulate in Makati City in Manila.

Abroad, the one-hour noon protest in the U.S. and Canada was so disappointing that the organizers were quick to blame those who did not participate for their lack of patriotism, prompting an organizer from Toronto to say that he’ll “puke” the next time he sees members of so-called nationalist groups in Toronto like the Knights of Rizal and the Rizal Society of Ontario show their allegiance to the Philippine flag during the annual Independence Day ceremonies.
Filipino-American protesters denounce China's bullying of the Philippines during
 their lunch-break  picket  at the Chinese Embassy in Washington D.C.  Photo by
 Eric Lachica of the  USP4GG. Click link to view "Protest by the Underdog: Low
Turnout in Toronto at  Rally Against China,"

The protests in the U.S. and Canada were organized by the U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG), a group closely identified with President Noynoy Aquino and known to be supporters of U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton. One of the leaders of the USP4GG, Fil-Am lawyer Loida Nicolas is an older sister of Imelda Nicolas, chairperson with the rank of a cabinet secretary of the Commission for Filipino Overseas, an agency of the Philippine government responsible for promoting the interests of expatriate Filipinos abroad and strengthening their ties with Filipino communities overseas. The Department of Foreign Affairs clarified however that the protests were a purely private undertaking and not sanctioned by the Philippine government.

There were reports of heated exchanges among the Filipino-Americans who attended the protests in the U.S., decrying the low turnout and blaming their fellow Filipino countrymen for being cowards in willing to give up their territories without a fight. Similarly, in Toronto, the few people who showed up were disgusted and questioned why the protest was so poorly organized. The protest organizers, however, put the blame on the failure of the community to meet the test of nationalism when it really counted.

The Toronto spectacle was a dud for obvious reasons.

First, the Scarborough Shoal issue or the bigger dispute in the South China Sea between the Philippines and China to begin with was a non-starter and the attempt to draw the attention of the international community to alleged Chinese aggression and “creeping invasion” was misguided. At the heart of the ongoing row between the two countries is ownership of the disputed rocks or islands. In other words, the question is who has sovereign title and this issue is unresolved, yet the Philippines claims that China has invaded its territories.

The Philippines has asked the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) to intervene as an arbiter but China already made it known to the Philippines that it will not agree to U.N. arbitration on the ground that the Philippines’ claim has no legal basis. Parties to an international dispute have the right to decline arbitration. So, why take the issue to the streets when it’s not going to matter anyway? There are other alternative ways to resolve the impasse like multilateral talks involving the two countries together with the other ASEAN nations who also have competing interests in the South China Sea. It’s just a matter of persuading China to take this route instead of bilateral negotiations, or one-on-one country talks. There are precedents to this type of multilateral negotiations between countries caught between conflicting territorial sovereignty claims.

Second, the organizers of the protest do not have a clear understanding of the legal issues regarding the dispute. Perhaps, they have grasped the issue of territorial sovereignty but only have a faint appreciation of the basis of the Philippines’ claim. To most of them, including the few who were convinced to attend the protest, it was enough that the Philippines is geographically closer to the Scarborough Shoal, about 124 nautical miles from the island of Luzon, compared to the distance of the disputed area to the nearest Chinese mainland coast which is about 472 nautical miles. Nobody tells them, and even if someone did, they would not probably accept that proximity bears no weight on sovereignty ownership because sovereignty over islands is established by legal relations rather than physical proximity.

A Toronto protester interviewed and caught on video stated that the intrusion of the Chinese military into the Scarborough Shoal was completely illegal and that was the reason why they were demonstrating. Sounding like he truly understood the legal issues involved, he argued that the shoal and all the islands in the South China Sea belong to the Philippines as they were delineated in the Treaty of Paris, the basis for the sale of the Philippines by Spain to the United States in 1898.

The reference to the Treaty of Paris was unfortunate and misleading. The maps provided by the Philippines to support its claim did not include the Scarborough Shoal, or Huangyan Island to the Chinese, as part of the territory and sovereignty of the Philippines as defined under the Treaty of Paris. This argument was used before by the United States against the Netherlands in the Island of Palmas Case to reinforce its claim that the island was ceded by Spain to the U.S. under the Treaty of Paris, and even submitted that the island was more contiguous to the Philippines. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 1928 decided in favour of the Netherlands ruling that in order to establish sovereignty, discovery must be followed by a continuous and peaceful display of authority or some degree of effective occupation.

The point being made here is without a clear and thoughtful understanding of the legal issues involved, the protest organizers would find it very difficult to persuade others to join. Legal issues should not be left to charlatans to explain.
A Hong Kong protester who supports Chinese sovereignty over the Scarborough
Shoal burns Philippine and US flags. Photo courtesy of AFP/Antony Dickson
Third, the protest organizers were hoping there would be a spontaneous reaction to the issues in the South China Sea by simply putting a website or actually a blogspot similar to this where people can follow the dispute on the Internet. This is insufficient. People must be organized and mobilized, and the issues discussed, so people would be committed to the cause. The protest organizers are hoping against hope that many will join the demonstration after visiting their website and would instantly be aroused by their love of country, that they would not allow its territories be invaded and taken away from them without a fight.

Thus, when people did not show up in great numbers, it was ridiculous and rather insensitive of the protest organizers to call them cowards and to mock their patriotism. As if the only people who were patriotic that day were those who attended. The protest was held for one hour during the noon break. Did the organizers expect people would be driving by to honk or get out of their cars to join those already marching on the street? What if they couldn’t leave work or they were too far away? So, these people were unpatriotic and did not love their country as much as those who attended the protest? What if they did not believe or agree with the protest? Were they not entitled to their opinion, too? Unpatriotic individuals have no right to disagree now?

Lastly, the protest was being used not for the purpose of informing the community of nations about China’s bullying tactics, but apparently for a different ulterior motive. It is becoming clearer now that the United States’ government would like to restructure its military strength in Asia and the Pacific, so the USP4GG protests are being used to drum up the necessity for the U.S. to reinstate its presence in the region by drawing attention to China’s aggression. The Philippine government under Noynoy Aquino is by all means complicit in this scheme, since its cooperation is tied up to foreign assistance from the U.S. It is also not too remote to speculate that the Aquino government could have promised some of the leaders of the USP4GG with one or two senatorial spots in the administration’s ticket in the 2013 elections.

One clear lesson from the uneventful protest last Friday is this: the patriotism of expat Filipinos abroad or even at home cannot be measured simply by their attendance or absence in political demonstrations. Love of country is more than an on-the-spot outburst of bravado or a token one-hour act of patriotism, it is instilled and nurtured through a deeper understanding of the real causes people are committed to support and to die for.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Stoking fears of China

A blogger and columnist for a Philippine newspaper wrote recently that the closure of the U.S. military bases in 1992 left the Philippines “defenceless against our enemies.” He was referring to the apparent helplessness of Filipinos to stand up alone to the Chinese threat, or to say it less mildly, to China’s arrogance and bullying tactics with regard to their territorial claim to the Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
About 300 Filipino demonstrators rally at the Chinese Consulate in Makati against China's
 aggressive tactics in the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Photo by AFP/Ted
Aljibe. Click link to view "Filipinos Protest China-Philippines  Naval Stand-off," 
In his column “My China Phobia,” he wrote, “If we still had the U.S. military bases in our territory, would Chinese trawlers and other fishing vessels dare enter Philippine seas? Without the U.S. military bases in our country, the Chinese and just about everyone else can enter our territory with impunity and forage in what should be our exclusive 200-mile ocean.”

Exactly what the aforementioned Filipino blogger/columnist and a few expat Pinoy protesters from the U.S. and Canada have in mind in internationalizing the dispute in the Scarborough Shoal and Spratly Islands, by giving the United States the necessary reason to re-establish its previous control of the sea lanes in the South China Sea and the whole of the Pacific.

It was in 1992 when the U.S. navy left Subic Bay that China started to expand its territorial claim to almost the entire South China Sea. By that time, China has redrawn the extent of its territorial breadth, covering virtually all the islands, atolls, reefs, and rocks and their surrounding waters and encroaching on parts of the sea that other countries in the region also straddle. To date, six countries have made competing territorial claims to the islands and other land formations in the South China Sea and the dispute is being escalated by military threats and war of words.

There are at least four observations we can make from the South China Sea dispute and from the spectacle of loyalty to the motherland by the handful of Filipino expatriates before the Chinese consulates wherever they are found in the world.

First, with respect to the competing territorial claims of China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, nothing has been settled and each country’s claim is what it is: an outstanding claim that is not validated, determined by an international body, or acquiesced to by the other countries. Therefore, no country has a better right than the other. Everyone is on equal footing, although not necessarily if one considers China’s military and economic wherewithal.

No matter how vociferous Filipinos are in asserting their sovereignty over the islands and rocks in the South China Sea and in expressing their boundless patriotism, this is not going to help establish their claim. We cannot truly state that China, for example, has violated our territorial sovereignty in the Scarborough Shoal because those rocks submerged in the sea are not yet ours. The same goes for China and the rest of the other countries.

The impasse cannot be resolved by the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) since this is a not a law of the sea issue. At the core of the dispute is who has sovereignty to these islands; therefore, it is a political conundrum. Until the sovereignty issue is determined, the provisions of UNCLOS on delineating boundaries such as the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the continental shelf are held in abeyance. All this talk about the 200-mile EEZ of the Philippines is nonsense as we have not established our legal right or title to own those islands and rocks in the disputed sea. The criticism of China’s territorial claim that likens it to Italy owning the whole of Europe or Africa because it was part of the Roman empire of yore is gibberish. We are talking of lands in the sea which are yet to be occupied or settled and governed with continuous authority, not of lands which are already subject to sovereign rule. Besides, the UNCLOS is only concerned with maritime waters, not with land formations which can be subject to territorial sovereignty claims.

Second, the sudden interest of expatriate Filipinos in the United States and Canada in the South China Sea is rather suspicious, if not apparently being orchestrated by the U.S. government itself together with their lackeys like Fil-Am lawyers Imelda Nicolas, Rodel Rodis and Ted Laguatan, organizers and leaders of the U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance (US4GG). While the true Filipino nationalists and patriots are demonstrating in the streets at home and before the American Embassy in Manila demanding the removal of U.S. special forces stationed on Philippine soil under the Visiting Forces Agreement, the USP4GG partisans are silent about American military intervention in the government’s campaign against local insurgents and Moslem secessionists in Mindanao. The USP4GG condemns China’s invasion of Philippine territories in the South China Sea, which is untrue, yet welcomes the presence of the U.S. military on Philippine soil.

Where is their true love of the motherland when they denounce China’s make-believe intrusion in Philippine territory but embrace America’s direct and actual intervention in the country’s affairs? While Filipinos in the Philippines are demanding the scrapping of the Mutual Defence Pact and the Visiting Forces Agreement with the U.S., USP4GG diehards, on the other hand, call for reinforcing these agreements by encouraging a greater build-up of American military muscle in the South China Sea.
Filipinos protest against U.S. troops under the Visiting Forces Agreement between the
Philippines and the United States. Photo by nicabil. Click link to view "Militants slam
 plan for more troops in the Philippines,"
Third, in shifting its foreign policy interest to Asia and the Pacific, the United States needs to restructure its military strength, especially its navy, from Australia to the Philippines in order to rein in the expanding influence of the Chinese military in the region. The U.S. military is now establishing a submarine base in Port Darwin in Australia and is also engaged along with the Philippine armed forces in actual hostilities against local insurgents and Moro separatists, even in regular military exercises in the South China Sea with its allies from the region. The South China Sea is therefore crucial to U.S. navigation and it cannot afford to simply let China control the sea lanes that are necessary for the U.S. navy to respond quickly to threats to South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, the countries of vital interest to the United States.

This is also why the Obama administration has pushed the U.S. Senate to approve the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea treaty. The U.S., which has withheld ratifying the treaty since its adoption 30 years ago and the only permanent member of the U.N. Security Council not a party to it, now believes the pact is necessary to protect the U.S. Navy’s right to carry out exercises off the coast of China. Ratification of the convention has been held over concerns among some congressional leaders that the treaty threatens U.S. sovereignty and gives the United Nations too much control over oil and other mineral rights. U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told U.S. lawmakers that ratifying the UNCLOS will ensure that U.S. warships, commercial vessels and aircraft have access to where needed.

And fourth, there appears an apparent wave of Sino-phobia that is being stoked by the U.S. and its allies in Asia and the Pacific. China has become an infinite source of fear and loathing characteristic of the Cold War between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union.

Among Asian countries, China-bashing is nothing new. There is long history of resentment against the Chinese by other Asians because of their economic success as immigrants, particularly in Southeast Asia. Ethnic Chinese, for example, constitute more than 1.3 per cent of the total population of the Philippines but they control 60 to 70 per cent of the Philippine economy. This figure however does not include Chinese mestizos who have been part of the Filipino middle class since the Spanish colonial period and immigrants from the People’s Republic of China after 1949. Add them and Chinese Filipinos are one of the largest ethnic groups in the country, comprising about 22 per cent of the total population. President Noynoy Aquino’s mother, Cory Cojuangco-Aquino, also a former president, was a Chinese mestiza. In addition, all the wealthiest billionaires in the Philippines are Filipino Chinese or of partial Chinese descent.

It seems easier therefore for Filipinos to whip up fears of China’s threat of expansion or invasion rather than incite anti-Americanism despite the reality that U.S. forces are already operating on Philippine soil. After the Japanese, the Chinese have never warmed up to the hearts of Filipinos, although hardly can one detect the difference between the ethnic Filipino and the Filipino Chinese. The Americans are acclaimed as heroes by most Filipinos and they are looked upon as protectors even though that is now far from happening.

The USP4GG protests against Chinese aggression in the Philippines are obviously a smokescreen for bringing back the mighty American military in the South China Sea. Their protests are a disguised form of patriotism, a charade of love country, when in fact they are actually selling the Philippines short, just as the Philippines has agreed before to sign on with unfair and one-sided treaties with the United States.

Unfortunately, our historic animosity to the Chinese is fueling the drive to bash China when the latter’s post-Mao government does not seem to have any interest in grabbing territory from its neighbours, or in promoting revolution or spreading a dangerous ideology. Rather, China seems more focused on its internal development, especially its experimentation with the capitalist system albeit centralized state control.

On the other hand, the United States, which has a history of military expansionism, seems bent on re-taking control of the South China Sea, to add to the 9,000 miles of coastline on the Pacific Ocean, which is effectively owned and operated by the U.S. Navy. Led by the USP4GG, misguided Filipinos abroad are helping and abetting the United States achieve its objective, and they call this an act of patriotism.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Scarborough Shoal forever

Mostly rocks just below water at high tide, the Scarborough Shoal about 123 miles west of Subic Bay has become a rallying cry for born-again Filipino patriots. Led by a U.S.-based group who call themselves USP4GG, or U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance, these misguided flag-waving loyalists from the United States and Canada will be staging international protests wherever there are Chinese consulates in the world against China’s bullying tactics particularly against the weaker and smaller Philippines.

One self-proclaimed leader in the Filipino community in Toronto even has the gall to ask those who have not participated in a rally in their life to savour their first opportunity to join the protest on May 11 in front of the Chinese consulate. As if many of us have not experienced a protest march or anything similar during our younger days in the Philippines, to deplore the Marcos martial law regime for instance, or to protest rising tuition fees when we were university students. As if joining their protest would be a transformative highlight in our lives, awakening us from our docile nature to become freshly-anointed political activists. Perhaps, they are the ones who had never walked before in sweltering heat or rain on the streets of Manila to show their indignation to a government that had betrayed its people.
Follow link
to view interview with Chito Sta. Romana, former ABC News Beijing Bureau
Chief, on Scarborough Shoal stand-off.
Such a charade of love of country just for a few rocks submerged under the sea. Rocks which are uninhabitable and incapable of sustaining human habitation or economic life, that the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the very law that the Philippines is anchoring upon its territorial sovereignty claim to the Scarborough Shoal, describes these rocks as having no exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or continental shelf. Well, it happens that the Philippines is the closest country to the Scarborough Shoal and, by common sense, according to these people, these rocks must be ours. This commonsensical thinking is now pushing us to the brink of war.

Interestingly, these new Filipino nationalists are trying to match up with the Chinese in a war of words. However, there’s a wrinkle to this Filipino bravado. At the same time that they would issue provocative statements against China, they would also shamelessly beg for American help, asking for more aircraft, boats and radar systems which the Armed Forces of the Philippines can use in the face of an escalating territorial dispute with China. Again, as if the United States would do them the favour even if there was supposed to be a mutual defence pact between the two countries. On the contrary, U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton has said that the U.S. will not take sides in the conflict, stressing that it prefers a peaceful settlement instead of the use of violence in resolving the impasse.

The Scarborough Shoal or Scarborough Reef was named after a tea-trade ship, Scarborough, which was wrecked on the rock with everyone perishing on board in the late 18th century. To the Chinese, the shoal was known as Huangyan Island while to Filipinos, it was called Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc. Like most land formations in the South China Sea which include the Paracels and the Spratlys, these groups of islands or rocks have been the subject of competing territorial sovereignty claims. Both the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan) lay claim to the Scarborough shoal after the Chinese Civil War. In 1997, the Philippines joined in this dispute, making its claim to the shoal. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo enacted the Philippine Baselines Law of 2009 (RA 9522) which classifies the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoal as a regime of islands under the Republic of the Philippines.

As I have written in my earlier posts about the disputed claims in the South China Sea, the dispute is more than a mere squabble over territory. The enormous reserves of oil and natural gas in these islands and  around their waters are fueling the territorial claims of these countries. Whoever is successful in establishing its sovereignty claim will have the potential to produce over a billion barrels of oil.

The UNCLOS, contrary to popular belief, is not the controlling law in the determination of sovereignty over land formations in the sea. It is concerned only with maritime waters and delineation of boundaries, not with sovereignty issues.

Under the UNCLOS, and this is what is commonly misunderstood, the country that holds valid legal title to sovereignty over their islands have exclusive right to exploit living and nonliving resources within twelve miles of their territorial sea and 200 miles beyond known as the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). But even if the Scarborough Shoal or the Spratly Islands is within the Philippines' EEZ from its coastline, it is not enough to acquire jurisdictional rights. It must first satisfy the sovereignty conundrum. At the core of the dispute is the question of territorial sovereignty, not law of the sea issues.

The competing sovereignty claims of six different countries to the Spratly Islands and now the stand-off between the Philippines and China in the Scarborough shoal have important ramifications to the United States insofar as its intention to remain a power in the Asia-Pacific region. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has recently declared that America was pivoting to Asia, a critical foreign policy decision now that the U.S. has lost its military bases in the Philippines which were closed in 1992.

In shifting its attention to Asia, the United States is restructuring its military strength in the region from establishing a new submarine corps base in Port Darwin in Australia to rotating military presence in the Philippines. This has the effect of making China the specific target for Pentagon’s global security programs, very much similar to America’s previous design of creating a missile interception network in the whole of Europe, which unnerved the Soviet Union during the Cold War between the two superpowers.

From a practical point of view, the Chinese are not about to rush to any military confrontation with the United States. China is in no position to challenge the U.S. because of the huge disparity in power. All signs, however, clearly indicate a new cold war is emerging as both countries try to avoid any direct confrontation in the high seas.

The United States is much more interested in dealing with the issue of human rights violations in managing its relationship with China, which Beijing suspects was aimed at challenging the ruling legitimacy of the Communist Party. Right now, the U.S. is in a deep predicament about its tense diplomatic situation with China concerning Chen Guangcheng, a blind Chinese dissident lawyer and human rights activist who sought refuge in the American Embassy in Beijing. Although Mr. Chen has left the embassy in order to be treated in a hospital in central Beijing, he told reporters that he and his family feel insecure in the hands of Chinese authorities, and would like to go to the United States. To date, the U.S. government has offered a visa for Mr. Chen to pursue his studies in the United States.

Mr. Chen’s fate remains in the centre of this diplomatic firestorm between China and the United States. President Barack Obama is already on his re-election campaign mode and whatever happens to the negotiations between the two countries regarding Mr. Chen’s future will surely be exploited by the Republican Party presumptive presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, as political ammunition against the current administration’s ineffective or inconsistent record of dealing with China’s human rights violations.
Philippine protesters over Scarborough shoal belonging to the Akbayan party.
So, what is it that these new Filipino patriots in the United States and Canada really want to achieve with their global protests against China? For certain, the United States has already made known its position that it will not take sides in the Scarborough shoal stand-0ff, with or without the Mutual Defence Treaty with the Philippines. Raising the level of rhetoric against China will not bring other nations to the side of the Philippines, especially in view of its shameless mendicancy to the U.S. policy of re-establishing its hegemony in Asia and the Pacific region, something that doesn’t sit well with the other members of the ASEAN.

The Philippines risks itself of becoming a pariah in its own backyard. Rejected by the United States, its wishful ally, and treated with suspicion by its neighbours.

All that the protesting Filipino patriots in the U.S. and Canada could accomplish is to rally well-known personalities to their cause: former politicians, civic society leaders and movie and entertainment stars. These are the people the organizers of the protest are all too willing to shove into the limelight, not the ordinary people who would really carry their protest placards and march in the sweltering heat of a noon-hour protest. As if these personalities would be ready and willing to play heroes—to offer and sacrifice their bodies to the enemy in order to defend our country’s territorial sovereignty for a few rocks submerged in the sea.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Canada’s sinister immigration backlog solution

With a clear majority in Parliament after leading two minority governments, nothing can now stop the ruling Conservative Party in having its way over the next four years. This is why Canada’s Minister for Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney appears to be in a hurry to overhaul the country’s immigration system every time he announces new policy changes.

Kenney is in fact dismantling Canada’s immigration system at will. Public consultations which he himself has initiated will never change his position. People are being encouraged to speak up but only for the sake of token participation. It’s only a matter of time before we witness a virtually new program for selecting immigrants in this country.
Canada's Minister for Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney. Photo courtesy
of mostlyconservative. Click to view "Jason Kenney: Bottom Line
Under the pretext of eliminating the backlog in the main federal economic immigration program, Minister Kenney recently announced that he is cancelling all applications submitted prior to February 27, 2008, for which an immigration officer has not made a decision based on selection criteria by March 29, 2012. Close to 280,000 applicants will be affected by this decision.

“The Federal Skilled Worker Program backlog is a major roadblock to Canada’s ability to respond to rapidly changing labour market needs,” says Kenney. “Having to process applications that are as many as eight years out of date reduces our ability to focus on new applicants with skills and talents that our economy needs today.”

Before being elected as majority government, the Conservative Party had been singing a different tune over the last four years. They were the political party of immigrants, the Tories claimed. The Tories were praising immigrants for being essential to Canada’s prosperity. There was no mistake in Jason Kenney’s appeal to Canada’s newcomers when he portrayed himself as hero to new immigrants. That was before. Alas, the federal elections are over, and the Conservative Party has suddenly been afflicted with mega-amnesia.

For four years as a minority government, the Tories could not cut back the flow of immigration applicants to this country so they had to maintain or increase the projected number of immigrants to Canada every year. Canada’s minority population is getting larger due to immigrants from non-Western nations and all the political parties are after their support.

Well, things are different now. Canada’s immigration minister doesn’t have to worry about the minority population vote anymore. That’s why it is so easy for Jason Kenney to put the blame squarely on the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSW) as the main reason for the immigration backlog. As he is fond of saying, the backlog is simply a mathematical problem. “When total applications exceed total admissions, you get a backlog.”

Of course, the minister is right. But who made this happen in the first place? Wasn’t it Kenney himself who smugly boasted that the backlog issue reflects well on Canada—that it is the Number 1 choice destination of immigrants in the world? Because Canada, according to Kenney, is a land “of opportunity, prosperity and democracy.”

When you keep opening up the application process, it is only logical that you create a line-up. And when there are only a few applicants you can accept to come to Canada, then you create a backlog. If you keep doing this every year, the line-up grows longer and longer. In short, the backlog issue is never a function of the number of applications accepted or the government is willing to entertain, but the number of applications actually processed and approved.

So, is the culprit the FSW program or the federal government and its bureaucrats?

It is fairly reasonable to expect the federal government to close the door to new applications, but not to eliminate those applications made earlier. Because these early applicants will be reimbursed for their fees, the federal government deems this is fair treatment. It would never be fair. The Canadian government has dashed their hopes and dreams. They gave up other options, and for some, opportunities for personal advancement which are no longer available after waiting so long. Others have postponed marriage or raising their families, so how can you be fair to these people? Their applications were never refused but only languished in the backlog because of bureaucratic incompetence.

Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), the basic law that governs the country’s immigration system, says that decisions made under this law should be consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including principles of equality and freedom from discrimination. Applicants directly affected by this draconian decision by Canada Immigration to shut the door to those who have applied prior to 2008 but have patiently followed the rules are mainly from China, India and the Philippines. These are applicants not necessarily the type of people from Western Europe that Canada prefers. Wouldn’t this be a clear act of discrimination against a specific race?

Right after the federal elections in 2011, Minister Kenney asked Canadians to help the government round up and deport suspected war criminals and illegal immigrants, ominously signalling the change from his previous pro-immigrant stance during the election campaign to that of an “Immigration Hunter” as the media had dubbed him.

On October 20, 2011, Jason Kenney rose before the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration and announced that immigration applications need to be reduced to fix the current backlog. He didn’t say then that those who applied before 2008 and whose applications are decomposing in the backlog would be dropped. Kenney instead decided to cap the number of applications for family reunification, thus denied the hopes of many new immigrants to bring their families with them to Canada, a clear defiance of the IRPA objective to reunite families. To allay the fears of these immigrants that they would not be able to sponsor their families, Kenney sweetened the cap by allowing parents and grandparents to come to Canada as temporary visitors under an expedited application process—8 weeks versus 8 years if they apply for permanent residence.

The Minister of Immigration wants a just-in-time system that recruits people with the right skills to meet Canada’s labour market needs, expedites their immigration and gets them working in a period of months, not years. In other words, Kenney wants employers to have a greater say in selection of immigrants.

Jason Kenney confirmed this decision in a recent interview. “The reforms are not about completely handing over to employers the power of selection, but rather about increasing their role,” he told The Huffington Post Canada this week. “There will continue to be a certain criteria that people have to meet.”

Many have criticized Kenney’s decision to put employers in the driver’s seat of Canada’s immigration system. Peter Showler, former chairperson of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, said allowing businesses to pick and choose the country’s newcomers hands “significant control over the selection of ideal immigrants to employers, who are acting in their own self-interest, not in Canada’s interest.”

Giving employers more say in selecting immigrants will result in a narrower focus because they will simply choose those who can fill a particular job. Right now, there are more than 300,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada—people who have been hired by employers to fill in their labour shortage. Unlike immigrants, these temporary workers have no guarantee of staying in Canada after their papers expire. These are the types of workers preferred by most employers; these are workers who can be hired when needed and disposed of when their services are no longer necessary.

Lately, Canada’s Human Resources Minister Diane Finley has announced that the Conservative government would now be willing to let employers pay temporary foreign workers less than what Canadians are paid. Finley said that employers will now be allowed to pay such foreign workers 15 per cent less than the prevailing wage.

So, the hiring of temporary foreign workers which was begun as a stop-gap measure in 2000 looks like the policy of choice by the Conservative government. There will be more temporary foreign workers coming to Canada who are disposable after their contracts expire. No more backlogs, then. Exactly what the economy needs in order to prosper and for employers to make more profits: by lowering wages.

There is something more sinister in the government’s scheme to eliminate the backlog and reform what is now considered a dysfunctional immigration system. The reason is more economic than anything else: to drive down wages or else the government will take in more temporary foreign workers, trained and cheap labour from abroad.

The Conservative government wants to put a stop to Canadians whining about jobs going to immigrants and foreign workers. He is not mincing words: Canadian workers had better stop complaining and accept lower wages. Jason Kenney has already warned that unemployed workers who refuse to take low-wage jobs will have their employment insurance benefits cut off. If Canadians agree to work for less, says Kenney, Ottawa won’t have to bring in as many low-wage outsiders.