Day 1: Discussion with Sec. Gen. Nato Reyes
After the workshop about BAYAN Nato Reyes stopped by the confrence room and started a discussion about what we all do in San Francisco and the contemporary political climate in the Philippines. Especially concerning the newly elected president Noynoy Aquino.
When it was time to introduce ourselves to Nato and to the other folks in the room I was able to see all the varied and diverse backgrounds we come from and the similarities of organizing for social and economic justice in the United States, specifically the Bay Area.
We had folks from the Latino community organizing for domestic worker and women’s rights and folks tackling youth issues in the Latino and Filipino community in San Francisco. Organizers from the Filipino Community Center spoke on behalf of their programs that tackled issues such as youth violence, high school drop out rates, and police brutality against the Latinoo and Filipino community. There was also a fellow organizer from San Francisco who spoke about trying to create a community organization in the San Francisco Vietnamese community in order to create a space for the Left and for social justice.
I spoke about my work with the Teamsters and with BAYAN-USA. Also, through some probing by Nato I talked about my experience in the Philippines last year, especially concerning the time I was accused of being a member of the New People’s Army by the local militia in Hacienda Luisita.
“You almost became another Melissa Roxas.” Nato exclaimed.
As for Nato. He described himself as taking care of the day-to-day affairs of BAYAN as well as being the front person for the media. He’s usually the one to be quoted in newspaper articles or to be shown on the news on TV.
As for the contemporary political climate Nato described the new president, Noynoy Aquino, as being very close to U.S. interests and to folks in the U.S. government. “To chummy for comfort.” As Nato described it. The U.S., he stated, will definitely try to get more out of the administration than it has already gotten out of the previous U.S. puppet Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Some of the interests within the Philippines that will want to see closer relations with the United States would be ExonMobile which has large oil exploration agreements with the current government: for both onshore drilling and offshore drilling.
So, while Aquino has some populist support and uses populist issues to gain popularity it seems as if its more of the same from his administration as in previous administrations.
One of those populists issues is “Walang wang-wang” (No more to wang-wang). Normally, and to the scorn of many Filipinos, government officials blair their sirens (wang-wang) in order to get through traffic faster and to blow past red lights. But Aquino has instituted an order that this shouldn’t be allowed any more. Recently vice-president Binay had to apologize for violating this rule when his motorcade was caught blowing past a red light. While this change is good (and shows how adapt his PR people are at keeping a pulse on populist issues) it pales in comparison to the actual systemic problems of the Philippines.
In a recent article a Bayan Muna partlist member told the press that Aquino needed to address “bang bang” not “wang wang” due to the fact that two activists (one from Bayan Muna and one from KMP) and one or two journalists have already been killed in his first ten days in office.
Bringing up the Obama analogy, Nato said. “He’s kinda like Obama. He’s a populist.” But, at the same time he’s allowing off-shore oil drilling and wants to build up the Armed Forces of the Philippines by recruiting more troops. Obama, on the other hand, has his own oil issues to worry about and has actually increased troop presence in Afghanistan.
As for what BAYAN is doing to address the problems of systemic poverty and extra-judicial killings (as well as the previous crimes of the Arroyo administration). “We have to rally the people to hold” the previous administration accountable for its crimes and to hold Aquino’s feet to the fire in making sure he keeps most of his populist promises: such as have a full and impartial investigation of previous Arroyo officials and of Arroyo herself, especially in concern with the extra-judicial killings.
After the discussion some of us, including myself, were able to have lunch with Nato at a moderately sized eatery across the street from BAYAN where we discussed issues of the previous elections, the electoral results of partylists affiliated with BAYAN, the senatorial candidacies of Liza Maza and Satur Ocampo, and of the resent developments with BAYAN-USA.