Baliksambayanan: Day 2, My Morning at Balai Obrero
After my first loooooooong day (got in at around 4 am and didn’t get to sleep until maybe 10 pm) in the Philippines I spent my first night at the KMU/Migrante International (here is an OLD webstie, the new one is down) office in Project 3 on Narra St. in Quezon City. The house is called Balai Obrero and also serves as a temporary housing unit (with three dorms that have multiple bunk beds inside) for fellow KMU workers and organizers and Migrante organizers (as well as folks coming to visit, like me).
I woke up at around 7 am and attended a press conference at the BAYAN office (which is a 15 minute tricycle ride away, more about tricycles in another post) in where multiple organizations under BAYAN (and BAYAN itself) gave statements to the national news media about their stance on president Arroyo’s eight years in office (not good!) and the platform on the anti-SONA (State of the Nation) protest that was to take place that Monday July 27th.
After the press conference I hopped a ride on a tricycle (a motorcycle, normally Kawasaki, with a little side car attached to it) back to Balai Obrero, the ride was only P40 which is around 83 cents.
When I got to the office I sat down for a while in the kitchen and was able to talk to some KMU officers and organizers for a bit before I was to take my hour or two journey down to Calamba, Southern Tagalog. There I was introduced to the acting General-Secretary of KMU, Ka Roger (as Ka Wilson Baldonaza passed away recently on July 1st), who is a pescatarian and rides his bike to the KMU office in Balai Obrero every day.
As I sat down he insisted (as everyone does down in the Philippines, or at least in the areas I was in) that I partake in some of his rice and fish and that I help myself to some coffee that was in the kitchen (every single cup of coffee I had in the Philippines was instant coffee).
During my conversation with him and a few others (with a TV set on nearby, in where the BAYAN press conference which had taken place an hour before popped up on screen as a preview of 24 Oras) I was peppered with questions about my life and life in the United States and the general political situation over there. I found this happening a lot during my stay in the Philippines: I would be given food then asked about my life (and always, if I was married) and then about the political situation in the United States (I, of course, would do the same).
I told Ka Roger and some of the others around the small table about my job loading trucks at UPS and my duties as a shop steward for my shift at work, and the situation of my union, the Teamsters. They were especially interested about the Teamsters Union and asked, “What is their stance? Their political line?” To which I informed them that my union, at least the national office, was yellow and a Gomperest union, and explained their role in colluding with certain major capitalist companies in the setting up of bad contracts (especially with UPS in where we negotiated the worst contract since possibly the 1970s). But, I also spoke about my local union, Teamsters Local 278, which had negotiated a very strong regional contract between UPS and the company and that they were more of a bread and butter type union but that they didn’t have an internationalist or Marxist outlook (KMU classifies unions in their country as either militant and genuine, fish and rice, or yellow). They were also heartened when I told them about my affiliation with the Teamsters for a Democratic Union, which pushes for genuine trade unionism and fights against corruption within the Teamsters.
I was also asked how I got involved with BAYAN work and ended up organizing with BAYAN-USA. I explained that growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area (which has the 3rd largest population of Pilipinos in a metro-area outside of Manila and Los Angeles) I was in close proximity with many Pilipino-Americans (immigrants and people born inside the United States), the neighborhood I grew up in was mostly Irish-American and Chinese-American, but the city had large populations of many Pilipino-Americans in neighborhoods very close to mine (the Excelsior District and South of Market District) as well as Daly City only a few miles south of my house. Plus, going to San Francisco State University many of my friends got involved with the League of Filipino Students which is apart of BAYAN-USA. So I kinda naturally fell into it over a long period of time and felt that as a U.S. taxpayer with tax dollars being used to oppress the nation of the Philippines I felt I needed to do something (as earlier generations had done with Vietnam, El Salvador, and Nicaragua).
We also watched a news break (on GMA-TV) about the press conference and an interview with an economist who talked about rising GDP but that there was also rising inflation, stagnate wages, and very few to no jobs.
After my lunch I began to get ready for my trip down to Southern Tagalog to begin a four day march (back to Manila).