Monday, July 30, 2012

Drone killings not justified

Last February 6, 2012, the Philippine military reported killing a senior Abu Sayyaf commander, a Singaporean guerilla and 12 terrorist followers after a surgical air attack on their suspected base in Parang, Sulu. The attack was so precise that it lasted only a few seconds. To date, however, the bodies of the slain terrorists have not been recovered.

Speculations were that U.S. Predator drones were used in the Sulu air strike, which was immediately denied by the Philippine Air Force. Four months earlier, PAF planes were also sent against terrorist fortifications in Zamboanga Sibugay after the Al-Barka massacre that killed 14 Marines. Nothing came out of that daytime raid, compared to the night-time Sulu strike which was carried out with uncanny accuracy.

Could it be that drones and Hellfire missiles are now being launched by U.S. visiting troops in the war against terror in Mindanao?
US Air Force predator unmanned aircraft in Afghanistan. Photo by DTN News.
Click link, to view "Predator Drones." 
There’s a raging debate going on regarding the moral and legal justification of the United States in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, in its war against terror in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and parts of Northern Africa where Al Qaeda operatives are known to operate. U.S. President Barack Obama was censured in an article in Esquire by Tom Junod for the administration’s policy of targeted killings of suspected militants.

So far, drones have become the weapon of choice of the United States military. Since being able to weaponize drones, the U.S. military now has the capability to hunt down terrorists without sending its navy and marines. All the military needs is a PlayStation warfare that can be operated thousands of miles away. The objective of the U.S. military is to convert 45 per cent of its “deep-strike” aircraft into drones.

According to Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, U.S. drone attacks may constitute war crimes since many of these attacks take place in areas not recognized as being in armed conflict, and some of them are strikes on rescuers who are helping those injured by the drone attack. Philip Alston, also a United Nations special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, considers drone killings as summary executions. 

Here are some disturbing facts about drone assassinations:

• The U.S. military has used drones to kill thousands of people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. So effective are drones against the war against terrorists that U.S. President Obama has fallen in love with them. Drones have become central to the Obama administration’s way of waging war, with the huge potential to take out those guilty of conducting terrorism while limiting U.S. casualties.

• But for every “high-value” target killed by drones, there’s a civilian or other innocent victim who has paid the price. The government of Pakistan stopped allowing the U.S. military to use its borders for bringing supplies to Afghanistan after a deadly drone strike killed about 42 civilian Pakistanis in March 2011. Only recently after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered an apology to the Pakistani government was the U.S. military again allowed passage to Afghanistan through the Pakistan borders.

• The truth is, U.S. civilian and military employees regularly target and fire lethal unmanned drone guided missiles at people across the world. As a consequence, thousands have been assassinated. Hundreds of those killed were civilians. Some of those killed were rescuers and mourners.

• According to The Wall Street Journal (November 2011), most of the time the United States did not even know the identities of people being killed by drones. Majority of those killed in such strikes are not important insurgent commanders but rather low-level fighters, together with a small number of civilians.

Drone killings are, in reality, summary executions and widely regarded as potential war crimes by international lawyers. A decade ago, the U.S. criticised Israel for such “extrajudicial killings” but now claims self-defense in the war against Al Qaeda.

The United States government justifies the use of drones as an act of self-defense against Al Qaeda, a necessary tool for its war on terror wherever terrorists are. This argument is a spill over from the 9/11 attacks and is being used by the U.S. government to justify killings in a global war on terror. But is this a valid legal justification?

If drones limit the cost of war, especially casualties on the part of the U.S. military, what could be wrong with the use of these unmanned aerial vehicles? The reality on the ground is that even with precision-guided munitions, drones could still cause a lot of collateral damage. And it’s the innocent civilian population that is taking the brunt of drone attacks rather than the few terrorist ringleaders. Just because individuals can be targeted without incurring troop casualties does not imply drones ought to be used.
Protesters demand grounding of drones by the U.S. military. Photo courtesy of
rjosef. Click  link to view "Predator Drones: Joking over innocent deaths?"
At the centrepiece of the U.S. justification for the use of drones are the principles of distinction and proportionality, which under international humanitarian law (IHL) are aimed in seeking a balance between humanitarian concerns and military objectives. In other words, IHL expects states to differentiate between civilians and combatants, and to ensure that the incidental damage to civilians be proportional to the military advantage.

These IHL principles are being twisted by the U.S. military to support their argument that the non-belligerent population is not insulated from drone attacks as long as the military gain does not exceed the injury to civilians and their property. Thus, the incidental or unintentional killing of civilians is not proscribed under international law. But, harm to civilians that clearly exceeds the anticipated military advantage—that is, disproportionate harm—is proscribed.

But the problem lies in the determination of military advantage over civilian casualties, a very subjective calculus. Unless civilian fatalities are the result of intentional targeting —where advance information would show the likelihood of such an outcome—and those fatalities exceed military benefit, then the attacker is not in violation of international law. 

Retired high-ranking military and CIA veterans have challenged the legality and efficacy of drone killings. Retired U.S. Army Colonel Ann Wright squarely denies the legality of drone warfare by saying that “drones are assassination machines, used for targeted assassination, extrajudicial ultimate death for people who have not been convicted of anything.”

Drone strikes are also counterproductive, according to Robert Grenier, former Director of the CIA Counter-Terrorism Center, who wrote, “One wonders how many Yemenis may be moved in the future to violent extremism in reaction to carelessly targeted missile strikes, and how many Yemeni militants with strictly local agendas will become dedicated enemies of the West in response to US military actions against them.”

Emerging technologies such as drones and cyber-combat missions are reshaping the future of war. With a video joystick, bombs could now be launched thousands of miles away. The rapid proliferation of drones, beyond their own ethical and legal quandaries, makes violence and aggression so much easier and cheaper to perpetrate and therefore so much more likely.

For drone operators, the experience of piloting a drone is not unlike the video games they grew up with. It’s similar to operating PlayStation warfare. Unlike traditional pilots, who physically fly their payloads to a target, drone operators kill at the touch of a button, without ever leaving their base – amounting to what critics of drones call as  desensitizing the taking of human life. A target of a drone strike is called by the military a “bug splat,” since viewing the body through a grainy-green video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed. “Bug splat” also happens to be the name of a children’s video game.

No wonder the bodies of the targeted terrorists by the Philippine military in Parang, Sulu have not been recovered. They must have been crushed into “bug splats.”

Monday, July 23, 2012

Summer of the gun: Part II

To many peace-loving residents of Toronto, the latest mass shooting (July 16) on Danzig St. in Scarborough raises yet the spectre of another “summer of the gun” that shook the city in 2005. That summer seven years ago, 24 people were shot dead in Toronto from June 12 to September 16, and by year’s end, a total of 52 people were killed, all by guns.
A passerby stops to look at a memorial for Joshua Yasay, 23 and Shyanne Charles,
14, both of  whom died in the Danzig Street shooting on July 16, 2012. Photo by
Peter  Power/The Globe and Mail.  Click link to view "Looking at the Victims of
the Danzig Street Shooting,"
This summer, there have been just six murders in Toronto, but all the victims have been shot. Of the 28 murders so far in 2012, 19 were by guns. There have been 140 shootings so far, up by 30 per cent from the 106 in 2011.

The statistics are not that grim to indicate another turbulent summer, but the level of violence is already driving Torontonians to push the panic button. After last Friday midnight’s (July 20) shooting rampage in a theatre complex in Aurora, Colorado, that killed 12 and wounded more than 50 people, fresh calls for tighter gun controls are being heard again in the U.S., and these have reverberated very loudly in Toronto.

But Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has a different idea – he stressed that the best remedy for shootings is jobs. Shallow as Ford has always been when it comes to effective public policy, according to him, “the best social program around, is a job.” He’s behaving like Marie Antoinette, whom, according to the myth, upon hearing that the French peasants were starving and had no bread, ordered to “let them eat cake.”

Ford’s doesn’t want any more spending on social programs, as others are wont to do. “I don’t believe in these programs. I call them hug-a-thug programs,” he added.

Last week, Ford voted by his lonesome against all city community development grants, even against accepting federal funds for a gang-prevention program that will cost the city nothing.

It’s easy to blame the lack of jobs as the engine that revs up criminality, without seeing unemployment in the context of poverty and other elements of social disorganization that can be found where poverty exists, such as poor housing, single-parent families, lack of discipline, economic inequalities, family breakdown, and absence of social and community controls. There is a societal explanation for crime in poor neighbourhoods and families, and people with simple minds like Mayor Ford do not understand the extent to which crime results from poverty. Thus, Mayor Ford would only see the absence of jobs and fail to understand the connection between the social environment in which people and institutions interact.

Mayor Ford does not only betray his lack of knowledge of the link between crime and socio-economic circumstances, but also is quick to blame the ethnicity of those who commit crimes against society. Or perhaps, he is confusing those circumstances with ethnicity, and to many other people, the link between ethnicity and crime is too often simply obvious. We hear many in the community who believe that immigrants commit crimes because it comes with their cultural background.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who according to Chris Selley of the National Post, is
out of his depth when he starts talking about crime. Photo by Darren Calabrese
of  the National Post. Click link to view "Ford - Put Down Your Guns,"
During a radio interview in the aftermath of the largest mass shooting in Toronto’s history, Mayor Ford told listeners, "Once they’re charged [those guilty of crimes] and they go to jail, the most important thing is when they get out of jail, I don’t want them living in this city. They can go anywhere else, but I don’t want them in the city.”

When asked how he planned to force gangsters out of Toronto, Mr. Ford said: “I don’t know and that’s what I’m going to sit down with the prime minister and find out: how our immigration laws work. Obviously I have an idea. But whatever I can do to get them out of the city I’m going to, regardless of whether they have family or friends, I don’t want these people, if they’re convicted of a gun crime, to have anything to do with the City of Toronto.”

Unfortunately, Mayor Ford misses the whole point about the link between immigration and criminality. According to Scot Wortley, a University of Toronto criminologist and gang expert, Toronto’s gang problem is a “homegrown problem, not a problem that’s been exported from other countries.” Wortley pointed to studies across North America that found immigrant communities actually having lower levels of criminality and lower levels of gang membership than those born here.

The Toronto mayor seems to be saying that immigrants are responsible for most of the gang crimes, which they’re not. Again, Mayor Ford does not take into account that a person’s background and environment can affect their behaviour. If he would only look at the various communities in Toronto and try to reconcile crime, social support and cultural diversity, then the link between ethnicity and crime instantly disappears. People from ethnic communities are no more or less susceptible than anyone else to the pressures of poverty, unemployment or poor education. A person does not commit crime because of their ethnicity.

But then Mayor Rob Ford and people like him never truly understand the more relevant causes of criminality. For them, the only task to do is to round up criminals and throw them in jail. Or worse, expel them out of their communities. Street crimes, such as the shootings in Scarborough and the Eaton Centre often are given wider press coverage and public condemnation than those crimes committed in suites or by white collar executives or children of rich families. Greater sentences are imposed against street crimes, and often the poor are given stiff sentences while the wealthy are given leniency for even serious crimes.

Arguably poverty is an influence on the criminal, but there is some inconsistency in linking socio-economic variables with all crimes. The difficulty perhaps lies in not fully accounting for the multiple causes of crimes, such as divorce, unemployment, broken homes, neighborhood decay, or other related factors. It’s rather easy for those in power, like the Toronto mayor, the police and members of city council to suggest that people in poor families and communities are more likely to steal, rob, sell drugs, and possess and trade illicit guns.

There are many views as to the motivations of crime and the influences on criminal behavior. Economic deprivation or poverty can motivate individuals to commit crime or create the circumstances that serve as a breeding ground for crime. Nevertheless, there are many who are poor but still choose to live a life of high moral standards and to adhere to societal norms. As such, poverty cannot be the only and single cause of crime.

Solutions for reducing criminality, particularly street crimes that involve gangs and guns, call for interventions beyond traditional policing. More social programs, subsidies, government housing, funded education, or community service programs, while they may assist in halting an increase in crime rates, can create more dependency on outside help. Politically, such programs are also not widely held acceptable because someone has to pay for those programs, and when governments are in austerity mode, these programs are usually the first ones to be eliminated.

If economic conditions, such as lack of jobs as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford would like to suggest, are to be considered the primary causal factor for crime, then the future is very dim. Economic conditions will invariably get worse, as the higher proportion of the population is in the lower economic class. Indications are that poverty will increase and the proportion of people who make a significant income will decline, and this may be exacerbated by the marginalization of new immigrants, taxation policies, jobs going overseas, an increase in cost of living, and a reduction in consumer spending.

We need a more comprehensive solution to crime. One that addresses and reduces risks to the community, increases the quality of life in the community, strengthens social institutions so as to reinforce social control, decreases family stress and family decay, and improves education and educational opportunities. The family and the community must work together to build social bonds with young adults and children, giving them the positive influence they need to accept social norms.

In the larger context of social issues, crime should not be seen alone as the central problem, but rather poverty, unemployment, racism, family breakdown, and a host of other related factors that we often ignore or avoid because they inconveniently bring up the roles of class division and social inequality.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Lies and bogus credentials

Lies, according to Plato, are not only evil in themselves, but infect the soul of those who utter them. A very uncompromising view that insists adherence only to the truth, not allowing any room for white or convenient lies. This kind of moral life that Plato seems to suggest is very difficult to sustain, for lying becomes unacceptable in whatever circumstances.

To Plato and others who subscribe to this rigid moral standard, lying is actually a double crime. To tell a lie, one must know the truth. And knowing the truth but concealing it results in committing a double crime.

But in reality, sometimes the truth need not always be the whole truth. There are those who are vey skillful in masking the truth, in putting up pretences that sometimes are taken as the honest truth. This is very common nowadays when people try to embellish their educational credentials, such as deliberately misrepresenting an Ivy League education or possessing an advanced degree in economics, computer science, or winning scholarship grants or honours in college.

The fact of dropping out of school as a caché seems reserved only for a very few who have achieved enormous success in later life such as the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Their achievements dwarf anything before, like training or any course or seminar mentionable that could have prepared them to succeed. To some of us who are less intellectually endowed, education—or to be more specific, a college or university degree from a reputable school—becomes the golden ticket in assuring acceptance or ease of accessing the corridors of wealth and power in today’s society. No wonder students in their thousands have taken to the streets of Montreal to protest the skyrocketing increase in college-tuition rates in Quebec. Nowadays it is hard to get a job without a college or university degree.
Diploma Mill. Photo courtesy of Sfaiez. Click link to view "How a Dog Earned a Life
Experience OnLine MBA Degree,"
There are others, however, who have cleverly managed to outfox the classroom and its rigid rules of learning by having their diplomas or credentials manufactured with the sole intent of moving up the social ladder. The CEO of Yahoo! quit earlier this year when it was discovered his degree in computer science was bogus. In 2006, the CEO of RadioShack stepped down after he had exaggerated his accomplishments at a California Bible College. In 2002, the share price of Bausch+Lomb plummeted when its CEO admitted that his MBA was nonexistent.

Even the academia is not even spared when one would think they are the best equipped in filtering out counterfeit degrees. The vice dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education was forced out when it was revealed that he never earned the PhD listed in his resumé. In 2010, a senior vice president of Texas A&M lost his job for faking both his master’s and doctorate degrees. He also garnished his CV with a fiction about having served as a Navy Seal.

In 2008, Toronto Star’s Dale Brazao reported about an investigation that uncovered close to 220 Canadians with bogus credentials, from one holding a fake MD degree from St. Regis University, a phony school, to a law student who submitted a faked bachelor’s degree to gain admission to Osgoode Hall Law School. The third-year law student was even offered an articling position with a Bay Street law firm when law school students were having difficulty getting articling positions. The Star investigation also exposed Peng Sun, a York University graduate who forged university degrees from real Canadian universities for $4,000.

Faking college degrees are a multi-million dollar industry, according to the Star investigation, and even threaten government security. The gang the Toronto Star busted raked in more than $7 million in sales to 131 countries, selling everything from high school diplomas to PhDs and medical degrees. Dozens of U.S. government employees were on the list, including a White House staff member, National Security Agency employees, a senior State Department official, and a Department of Justice employee.

Surprisingly, a fake diploma can easily be obtained on-line. A company that specializes in fake diplomas advertises itself as the “#1 source for 100% premium diploma fakes from both popular schools and schools that no longer operate!” According to its website, the company has in its stock the largest database of diploma documents anywhere, which allow them to guarantee the most authentic replica diplomas. Their products include fake high school diplomas, fake college degrees, online degrees, fake university degrees, fake GEDs, college certificates, fake TESOLS, etc.
Fake Diploma. Photo courtesy of fakediplomas. The company that sells
this diploma advertises that it is the best in authentic-looking novelty
 replacement degrees,
Of course, these fake diplomas are for entertainment purposes only, not to be used to garnish a resumé or a job application. These phony diplomas are sold as novelty documents that look and feel real, but are designed to trick family and friends. It’s absolutely not illegal to purchase this type of documents. But these are not the fake diplomas we are referring to.

Credentials, whether one’s diploma or alma mater, are all that matter over everything else. There are high expectations when one earns a degree from the country’s best schools. American presidents elected to lead the most powerful nation in the world are most often schooled in Ivy League universities, either from Harvard or Yale. British prime ministers usually come from Oxford or Cambridge, and so with the leaders of the rest of the world—being trained if not in foreign schools, in the best schools in their countries. The same can be said of business and industry captains, they’re traditionally from the best schools, too.

In the Philippines, politicians and business leaders are by and large products of the University of the Philippines (U.P.), Ateneo de Manila University or La Salle University. Among these schools, U.P. seems to carry the most aura of excellence and association with historical events, talking about the Diliman Commune or the Barricades of 1969, or the fact it was the hotbed of student activism during the ’60 s and ’70s, for instance.

It wasn’t a huge surprise that the U.P. Alumni Association in Toronto would be confronted not so long ago with an accusation that one of its members faked his credentials or pretended he was a U.P. grad in order to gain membership. Such was the big deal its members would give weight to a U.P. education, as if it meant the world for them to set foot in the university’s hallowed grounds.

I remember the time when I was a second year student at U.P., when my cousin and I were trying to win the hearts of two young lovely sisters. My cousin, whose mother died after giving birth to him, and I were born in the same month and were both breast-fed by my mother. So he was more like a brother than a cousin to me. It was after our second date with the sisters that he confided about pretending he was also studying at U.P. The truth was, he was still finishing high school because I left him two years behind in grade school. I played along with my cousin’s little scheme and, if we were to follow Plato’s strict moral compass, then I could also be faulted for keeping mum. It was a good thing we were never put to test by the sisters; otherwise, either one of us could have failed. But that was a harmless youthful prank, no damage was done.

The table changes when one obtains a fake degree and utilizes it in gaining entry to the social class or a higher paying job; this becomes morally wrong. To many of us, credentials signify as if they represent everything. Especially when the diploma comes from a well-regarded institution of learning. It becomes a million-dollar coin that can attract counterfeiters.

When society continues to treat education or higher education not for its original purpose of higher learning but as a golden ticket to a high-paying job or to membership in the elite social class, we will always have those who would take the risk to leap class ranks and counterfeiters who would jump on the opportunity to make a million bucks. Of course, regulations are needed to run after diploma mills and counterfeiters. But unless we change our fundamental view that the aim of education is more than success in landing a lucrative job or a means to jack up reputation for desperate people whose careers are going nowhere, we will always have to co-exist with phony degrees and dreamers of white collar achievement.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Disconnect between old and young

Celebrating Philippine Independence Day in Toronto, or perhaps elsewhere in today’s Filipino diaspora, brings about an obvious disconnect between two main groups in our immigrant Filipino community: the older and traditional groups, led and composed by and large of the older and more established folks, on one hand, and the more engaged and activist-oriented youth, on the other. The focus and way of celebrating Philippine independence by these two groups are quite asymmetrical, although not necessarily opposed to each other. They’re not opposed in the sense that neither one aims to spoil or junk the other.
Diwa ng Kasarinlan (Spirit of Independence) 2012, an alternative celebration
by Anakbayan Toronto on July 7, 2012 at the Ryerson University Students
Union. To see more about the event, click  link to Anakbayan Toronto FB page,

At the forefront of this group of elders is the Philippine Independence Day Celebration (PIDC), an umbrella of Filipino community organizations dedicated to the commemoration of Philippine Independence Day every year. PIDC is also holding the Mabuhay Festival and Trade Show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on July 28. Hosting the annual Pistahan sa Toronto which is the focal point of the celebration of Independence Day is the Filipino Centre Toronto (FCT), another organization led by community elders and successful Filipino professionals.

This more traditional group—first-generation immigrants who brought the values and traditions they learned while growing up in the Philippines—focuses their celebration of Independence Day around the idea of festivals and merry-making. These festivals have their root in the native town fiesta, complete with the Santacruzan, singing and dance contests, beauty pageants, and even a parade of lechons (roasted pigs). While they usually start their celebration with the raising of the Philippine flag at the Nathan Phillips Square, this only visual and perhaps relevant connection to Independence Day is fleeting and easily drowned by the festive atmosphere that surrounds the presentation of beauty queens, the song and dance performances, and most importantly, by a gala celebration where the movers and shakers of the community are invited and honoured. By day’s end, everything about the significance of independence is only a distant memory; nothing much remembered and learned, except for a superficial recollection of the gowns and attire worn by the gala celebrants.

Even the Santacruzan, which has a deeply religious and historical meaning to Filipinos back home, is somehow scandalized by the emphasis of the organizers on the beauty queens that make up the parade. Otherwise known as “Flores de Mayo,” (Flowers of May), the Santacruzan celebrates the finding of the Cross and in many Philippine towns, this event is celebrated with praying of the rosary, offering of flowers to the Virgin Mary, sharing of homemade delicacies and treats, and welcoming the rains that will water the new crops. But in cosmopolitan Toronto, the older leaders of the Filipino diaspora have transformed it into something akin to a bacchanalian festivity, minus the drunken revelry.

On the other hand, the other group composed of young people and mostly university students, who came to Canada with their parents when they were very young or those born and bred in Canada, points their celebration of Philippine independence to a continuing struggle for national self-determination. To them, independence has not been fully achieved because the Philippines is not yet fully free from American control and influence. Protest against the traditional celebration of Philippine Independence Day runs deep in these young people’s minds as they offer an alternative form of memorial. ANAKBAYAN Toronto represents this militant group that seeks to achieve true national liberation for their motherland.

This group’s celebration of the spirit of independence, Diwa ng Kasarinlan, coincides with the founding of the Katipunan which led the Philippine revolution against colonial Spain on July 7, 1896, instead of the ceremonial independence day of June 12, 1898. Disenchantment typifies the ambience of their celebration, as they conduct workshops to discuss the history of our heroes’ struggle, particularly about the engagement of Filipino youth revolutionaries during the Spanish colonial period. Their riveting performances of songs, whether hip-hop, rap or jazz, and spoken word all invoke their collective angst toward their adopted community and the Philippine society back home. Their spare but powerful dances portray their pride in their heritage and culture and the drama of the ongoing struggle for liberation of the indigenous peoples in the Philippines. Their music not only utilizes digital technology but also traditional Filipino instruments such as the kulintang.

Set against each other, both groups’ celebrations are equally entertaining but the younger group adds a feature with a more lasting impact: not only is the presentation highly informative, it also raises the participants’ awareness of the significance of the event they are celebrating. Both utilize artistic and talented performers but the younger group features home-grown talents who are also intellectually grounded on the issues their performances harp on, so unlike the washed-up entertainers or stars from the past imported by the older group from the Philippines. Thus, while the older group’s celebration puts the accent on the superficial, the younger group focuses on relevance and substance.

Why the big disconnect?

The youth and students comprising the more activist-oriented group are all descended from immigrant parents who have likewise undergone the immigrant’s experience of displacement and loss sometime in their earlier years in Canada. Somehow the same tensions, ambiguities of desire, contradictions and struggles that typify the immigrant experience would have been expected to be transferred on the young, yet the quest of the young for their genuine identity and cultural affinity with their parents’ land of birth seems so far off. Why they would begin questioning the traditions and values that previously gave order and meaning to their immigrant parents’ lives is rather perplexing than what could be most naturally expected from immigrants’ children, particularly with Filipino children who are normally raised under strict rules of parenting.

It is quite plausible to understand that when immigrants leave one place for another, they find themselves dislocated not only in terms of space but also in terms of meaning, time, and values. Early on, they may find their past not so easily accessible and their future uncertain. Inevitably, tensions between the old world and the new build up. As immigrant parents continue to struggle in their newly adopted home, they gradually reconnect with their past by bringing in some facets of their culture that could soothe their feelings of nostalgia. But for the most part, they have become selective, allowing them to be pulled backward toward the values of the past that they deem practical, safe or convenient, such as beauty pageants or music festivals that are largely entertaining, ascribing to these festive activities a simulacra of the culture they left behind.

But the children are pulled differently, much forward into the dynamic vortex of the larger society they have become a part of. Most of the time, they abstain from participating in their parents’ celebrations of culture. After all, culture is more than the way immigrants do things, dress or eat. It is also more than art, ritual or language. It encompasses beliefs and systems of meaning that create community, dignify individual lives and make them significant. These children are looking for more than what their parents’ notion of culture can give, something more than Filipino dishes or festivals can offer. This search for identity beyond their parents’ traditional culture has created a schism between them, a search for answers that cannot be found at home.

So these children embrace an activist orientation which, to their parents, unfortunately, denotes something negative and destructive. This orientation provides them with a way of organizing their world perspective and realizing their full dignity, thanks to the freedom they have, but which now stirs them to question why people in their homeland have no access to the same type of freedom. Although militant and confrontational, these young people take the burning issues of the day seriously as distinguished from the hands-off attitude of their elders.

They would question and oppose American intervention in the affairs of their native land, or why the Philippine government continues to allow the U.S. military to conduct military exercises on Philippine soil and waters when these are obviously not to defend Filipino interests. They would demand that the U.S. stop making the terrorist wars in Mindanao as a laboratory in preparing their troops for military offensives in the Middle East and everywhere the U.S. government sends  its troops in the guise of waging a war against terror and restoring democracy. They would expose the mining practices of Canadian companies in the Philippines that harm the lives of the folks living in the mining grounds: the adverse health effects of mining operations on their environment, particularly on the water they drink, and the human rights abuses committed by paramilitary groups employed by these mining companies when people protest to seek redress for their grievances.
Cultural groups in the Philippines performed a series of street plays to commemorate
the founding of the Katipunan which led the Philippine revolution of 1896. Photo
courtesy of
Not many of their elders would agree to the demands of these young people and the manner by which they show their discontent. Most of the parents reject their children’s activism and militancy, and that contradiction permeates the gaping divide between the old and the young in the Filipino diaspora in Toronto.

Perhaps, this is the easiest way to understand the schisms between immigrant parents and their children, the gaps that divide generations. However, the divide between these aforementioned older and younger groups is not simply a generational or a cultural gap. These immigrant parents left the Philippines to find a better place for their children to grow and fulfill their dreams, and some were also fed up with the socio-political and economic system they left behind. It is the great tidal pull of a better homeland that motivated these parents and, for the sake of their children, further boosted their belief that immigration was the best decision they made. But their immigrant struggles have also dulled any residue of anger and hopes they nursed before, making them seek simpler and safer entertainment forms from their culture at home, a balm for their longings and despair. Rather than venting their rage against the inequalities and discrimination they have experienced in the workplace in their adopted country, the older generation has chosen to silently seek refuge in the trappings that a materialist society can offer: abundant feasts, the garish display of clothes, possessions, and entertainment.

We should not fault the immigrant parents for their decision to come to Canada. In the same vein, however, we should also not blame their children for taking up an activist stance in trying to shape their true identity as Filipinos, as opposed to what their parents have traditionally accepted. A happy medium could be struck by reconciling our youth’s struggle for identity and their continuing aspiration for a genuinely free and independent homeland with their immigrant parents’ hopeless resignation to the old ways of the past. And the recent Diwa ng Kasarinlan 2012 has shown the way: there is room for optimism that this ideal balance is achievable.

This reconciliation can be realized faster if only Filipino immigrant parents would fully embrace the causes of their children, for the future rightfully belongs to them. And it is only in pushing and driving our children to actively engage in the larger political arena, whether here or at home, can we be assured that the future is within their reach.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Shutting the doors

Canada swears in about 160,000 new citizens every year and during the Canada Day celebrations on July 1st, a total of 1,500 people took their allegiance to their adopted country. This is the biggest day in terms of the number of individual ceremonies held across the country on a single day.
Canada Day, July 1st, is celebrated with fireworks at Ashbridges Bay in Toronto.
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view, "Peter Russell - How to Become a Canadian."
But even as Canada offered its welcome mat to its new citizens on July 1st, the doors to aspiring new immigrants under the federal skilled worker and investor program have been slammed shut by Citizenship and Immigration Canada until July of next year. Canada Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, in a speech before a C.D. Howe Immigration conference, announced it’s about time to put a moratorium on the country’s skilled labour program in order to “reset the button.” Kenney’s decision put the brakes on new applications under the two programs popular with skilled workers wanting to come to Canada from abroad, which he stressed is part of the government’s backlog elimination strategy.

Kenney said it will be just “a temporary pause on new applications for the federal skilled worker program,” to “ensure that improvements to the program have time to be put in place which will give new applicants the opportunity to be even more positioned to succeed in Canada.”

But he cautioned that the moratorium will not amount to a drop in immigration levels. According to Minister Kenney, the only way to make the system run faster is to get rid of the backlog in immigration applications and at the same time give the government the opportunity to revise the much-criticized selection criteria for accepting new immigrants.

Under this year’s budget, the Conservative government has already scrapped all applications prior to 2008 as a way of eliminating a backlog of 280,000 applications. Even after removing all those applications, there would still be plenty of others waiting, thus “there’s just no point in any longer stockpiling people in the back of the backlog,” Kenney added.

What additional changes Ottawa will make to the federal skilled worker program are not known, but Kenney said he’d like Canadian employers to have more say in selecting immigrants under a system where they can choose potential job candidates from a ready pool of pre-screened skilled immigrants.

Last year, Kenney capped the number of applications for the investor program to 700 spots and doubled the minimum investment requirements from $400,000 to $800,000. The quota was filled in 30 minutes. There are currently 25,000 investor applications representing 86,000 principals and dependents in the backlog.

Currently, the federal skilled worker program has an inventory of 463,214 people waiting for a decision. Ottawa is hoping the new law would enable Kenney to return and dispose the files of some 280,000 people submitted before Feb. 28, 2008. This has raised the ire of affected applicants who have filed a class action lawsuit against Ottawa, which has agreed not to destroy or return their applications within 90 days of the bill’s passage until the lawsuit is certified by the court. The court is yet to hear or set a hearing date in September.

Judging by his official pronouncements, Minister Kenney is apparently casting a huge precautionary tale.

First, in revising the rules for temporary foreign workers allowing them to enter and work in Canada for four years but leave thereafter, the government shows bias and preference to temporary status rather than giving them a chance to stay as permanent residents.

Second, in declaring a moratorium for sponsorship of parents and grandparents of already landed immigrants, Kenney has effectively set aside the objective of family reunification under the law.

Third, in eliminating all previous skilled worker applications prior to February 2008, Kenney has unfairly and unjustly shut closed the system to these people without the benefit of a review and assessment of their applications, which is probably a violation of their fundamental right to natural justice.

And now, with this recent suspension of all applications under the skilled worker and investor program, the government is further squeezing the door ever so tightly that those who wish to enter Canada are being excluded.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada Minister Jason Kenney. Photo by The  Canadian
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A recent poll conducted by Ipsos Reid for Postmedia News and Global TV in time for the celebration of Canada Day, shows that almost three-quarters of Canadians don’t want the federal government to increase the number of people the country allows to enter every year. However, four in 10 people feel those immigrants are having a positive effect on the country.

The message from the survey is clear: that while immigrants are being tolerated to enter Canada, there is a feeling among Canadians that there are an awful lot of them coming in right now.

Darrell Bricker, president of Ipsos Reid, said that Canadians don’t seem to realize the dramatic transition in the government’s immigration policy since the 1960s. He argued that fifty years ago, the government was trying to convince Canadians to welcome the “poor and huddled masses and refugees who made up most of the immigrant population at the time. Now, it’s about attracting people who are going to drive our economy.”

If the poll survey would be taken as a basis for government policy, then Canada should not let more immigrants come into the country as it currently allows. The survey shows that 72 per cent of the respondents said no to more immigration. This is in contrast to population projections based on the 2011 census that showed a rapid decrease in fertility rates in Canada, and if this trend continues, Canada’s population growth could be close to zero within the next 20 years. It behooves that without a sustained level of immigration, Canada’s zero population growth could become a reality.

The policy changes the Canadian government has adopted in the last few months appear to be short-sighted as they are merely aimed in attracting people who are immediately needed by industry or employers. These policies are based on the disposability of people, not on their potential contributions to the economy on the long haul. Thus, employers might be able to hire their workers needed for short-term periods and could be disposed of when they’re no longer necessary.

The treatment of immigrants that these policy changes by the Conservative government seem to augur is bereft of the respect for the fundamental humanity of temporary foreign workers. They harvest our fruits and vegetables, care for our children, clean our houses, perform the most backbreaking and perilous work in our oil and tar sands. They fill all the labour needs in jobs which are unappealing to Canadians or which Canadians refuse to take. They come to us, as the Swiss playwright Max Frisch wrote, “as menial labourers, and somewhere along the way we seem to have forgotten that they are also human beings.”

This way of treating immigrants is very un-Canadian like. It parallels the immigration system of our neighbour in the south where foreign workers are denigrated after they have been exploited of their usefulness to society, where they are stripped of their basic humanity, and branded as aliens who are deemed as “illegals.”

The decision by U.S President Barack Obama to stop deporting young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children, despite its humanitarian element, has been criticized and lambasted by the Republican Party as pandering to the Hispanic vote. Arizona’s “Show your papers” in cracking down on undocumented immigrants has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court while part of the law was declared unconstitutional. What the U.S. Supreme Court decision and Obama’s stop-gap measure have achieved is merely to highlight the continuing inability of the United States to wrestle with its immigration mess. Former U.S. President George W. Bush tried immigration reform but was scuttled by his own party in Congress. President Obama has hardly begun to try his hand at immigration reform but already the Republican Party has spoiled his efforts.

Too much of the debate in the United States has been focused on the legality of immigration, deflecting the more fundamental issue of the positive effects of mass immigration on American society.

In both the United States and Canada, study after study has shown immigration has been beneficial to society in general. There is enough social evidence to debunk the notion that immigrants have worsened social ills, or that they have reshaped the social fabric in harmful ways.

Writing for the Harper’s Magazine in March 1871, Louis Bagger compared the Castle Garden on New York’s Battery, where ships from Europe deposited immigrants who flooded America after the Civil War, to an absolute immigration depot. Among those who came in 1869, according to Bagger, were 99,605 from Germany, 66,204 from Ireland, 41,090 from England, and more than 35,000 from the Scandinavian countries. Millions of people afterwards would immigrate to America, making it a nation of immigrants. The same can be said of Canada, especially after the 1960s.

Yet, both countries have become wary of immigrants today. Every time immigration comes to the top of the public agenda, a dark shadow prevails -- the dark shadow of racism. Racist demonization always begins the hysterical rhetoric, and it’s not a new phenomenon. The racism in this debate is more pronounced in the United States, with its epicentre in Arizona. Canada may not be too far behind if the ruling Conservative government is allowed to continue singlehandedly, without a robust public debate, with its sweeping policy changes under the pretext of eliminating the immigration backlog and reforming a broken system.