In this two part series on the US/Philippines human trafficking epidemic, Abby Martin recalls the history of the colonization of the Philippines and how it has led to a dramatic rise in human trafficking of Philippine workers. She interviews the executive director of Damayan, the 8,000 member strong New York City based organization created and led by Filipino women domestic workers that provides legal assistance to migrant workers and human trafficking victims, as well as other victims of human trafficking who have experienced the dark side of migrant employment.
Part One: Buying a Slave – The Hidden World of US/Philippines Trafficking
Part Two: The Roots of the Philippines Trafficking Epidemic
The Philippines has suffered the consequences of occupation and colonization for hundreds of years with the effects still being seen today in the form of poverty, job shortages and a human trafficking epidemic. A shocking 10% of the Philippine population must leave the country in order to seek employment in hopes of sending money back to their families. An estimated 6,000 people, mostly women, leave the Philippines daily to seek work.
Human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry that entraps millions of people across the globe. The majority of victims are abused– living and working in shockingly inhumane conditions. Particularly horrifying is the fact that, in the Philippines, humans have become the number one export.
Most of these migrant workers leave the Philippines for the United States, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Japan where they work in low-wage jobs. In fact, 21 million people are working in forced labor situations worldwide- many of them right under the noses of the average citizen of these countries.
There are currently 2 million migrant domestic workers working in the United States. According to the recent report The Human Trafficking of Domestic Workers in The United States, over 80% of these workers have experienced their pay being withheld or having been paid under minimum wage, 81% live in abusive conditions and 73% work excessive overtime.
Through this process, many of these migrant workers have become victims of human trafficking and have found themselves stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of abuse and neglect. But what has led to this disturbing trend? Why do so many Filipinos flee their home country for work and subject themselves to such harsh and inhumane conditions?
The Philippines was first claimed by the Spanish in 1525. The indigenous Filipino people engaged in over 300 armed revolts over the next three hundred years, eventually securing their independence after a two year long war of independence. At the time, Spain was also engaged in the Spanish-American war. Upon losing that war, Spain negotiated the sale of the Philippines to the United States, behind the backs of the Filipino people, for a total sum of $20 million in the Treaty of Paris.
This began a many decade-long hostile relationship between the Filipino people and their new occupiers from the United States. With such a volatile relationship, conflicts occurred frequently resulting in the deaths of numerous Filipinos. In one such conflict, the Moro Crater Massacre, only six out of 1,000 Filipinos survived. Shockingly, in the first 15 years of colonization, more Filipinos were killed by the U.S. than during the entire three hundred years of Spanish occupation.
As the violence decreased, the occupation took on a new form– economic destruction and experiments in neocolonialism. There quickly became a dependence on U.S. patronage for survival of the now fragile Philippine economy and the U.S. began focusing it’s efforts and attention on the elite of the Filipino people– training and educating them to be vehicles of U.S. colonization.
This led to the granting of Philippine independence in 1946 but that independence was only in name. With the puppets of neocolonialism now in charge of the country, the U.S. continued to have a direct line of control, only now it was slightly obscured. Also in 1946, the United States Congress passed the Rescission Act, stripping Filipinos who fought in defense of the U.S. against the Japanese during World War II of the benefits they were promised for doing so, yet another damaging blow to the Philippine people.
“Our country was ruined primarily by the U.S.” –Linda Oalican
Tensions between the Filipino people and the U.S. backed ruling class have continued to this day, with the Philippine economy continuing to suffer and a successful government propaganda campaign encouraging workers to seek employment elsewhere via the Philippine Labor Migration Policy continuing to grow. In this episode, Abby Martin details the history of the colonization of the Philippines, starting with the Spanish in 1525 and ending with the present day situation, leading to an exodus of able-bodied workers from the Philippines to all corners of the globe– often ripping families apart and damaging relationships for years to come.
“The history of the Philippine resistance is an unbroken chain– from it’s first hand-to-hand battles against colonizers wearing armor and swords to it’s organizing against today’s exploiters who wear three piece suits, the poor and oppressed of the Philippines are much more than victims of the system, but are indeed the force that will change it.”
Part One Transcript
Abby Martin: The Philippines, among the many nations whose history is one of being colonized and subjugated by the world’s empires, today suffers the consequences of that legacy, underdevelopment, high unemployment, and deepening poverty. This has led to a phenomenon that dominates the lives of millions of Filipinos. The fact that over 10% of the population, mostly women, must leave the country to seek work in order to send money back to their families. Six thousand people leave the Philippines as migrant workers every single day. Imagine children, often too young to understand, watching their mother leave, and knowing they will not see them again for a decade or more. This is now a shared experience for countless families in the island nation. Most go to work low-waged jobs in the United States, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and Japan. They send back over $20 billion a year into the Philippine economy. Despite its dramatically smaller population, the Philippines ranks alongside India and China as the top countries receiving such remittances, But when these people leave their homes, they enter into a dark, cruel industry. Human trafficking is mostly absent in US consciousness. Most don’t think of trafficking when it comes to jobs like nannies, maids at big hotel chains, and other domestic work, but millions of migrant workers are trafficked into these jobs every year. It’s defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means for an improper purpose including forced labor, or sexual exploitation. This global black market ensnares 21 million people around the world, making $150 billion a year in illegal profits for traffickers. According to the recent report, the human trafficking of domestic workers in the United States, there are currently two million migrant domestic workers that live in the US. Around 300,000 of whom are Philippina, and doing legally with work visas. The overwhelming majority are placed by agencies in a shockingly inhumane conditions. Over 80% have had their pay withheld or are paid below minimum wage, live in abusive conditions, and have been tricked or false or deceptive contracts. Over 70% work excessive overtime, and have had their movements restricted or monitored by employers. A New York City based organization called Damayan, which means to help each other, is one group fighting this web of exploitation. It is led by Filipino women domestic workers, and with 8,000 members, organizes and provides legal assistance to other migrant workers, and trafficking victims. I visited their bustling headquarters to understand more about the situation. Linda, a co-founder at Damayan who came to the US as a migrant worker, explains the sacrifice experienced by these women.
Linda: In 1994, I made a fateful decision to come here. When I first came here, I left my children. They were in elementary. A boy and a girl, and it wasn’t easy. It’s always hard for a mother to leave her children, but I thought that I did not have a choice. I had no enough source of income to send my two children to college, and I really need to go abroad. My thing, my difficulties in being away from my children, those were all collateral damage. I was very young then. I’m now 65. Life is different for me now. I also have a granddaughter. Having the chance to raise my granddaughter, now I realize how precious the moments that I’ve lost. That really cost my relationship to my children. Women, Filipino women, who come here, they don’t talk about the family and the social cost of migration, but it is real.
Abby Martin: One of Linda’s children, her daughter, Ria, also came to the US as an adult. She recalls what it was like to lose her mother so young.
Ria: Yeah, it was really difficult. I consider myself a product of forced migration. When I was eight, I found myself crying my eyes out at the Manila International Airport because my father, brother, and I were saying goodbye to my mother. She was about to board her flight to work as a domestic worker in the US. I had no idea what was going on, but I knew that I was about to lose my mother, and our family was about to get separated. After that, things changed. I was diagnosed with Complex PTSD. When I got older, and I know it was because of the family separation or the impacts of family separation on my family. That’s why I’m very invested in this work.
Abby Martin: Human trafficking survivor, Sally, also came to the US at great personal cost.
Sally: I have three children, and my husband suffered a stroke, so I need to work to provide their living. My youngest child is a special child, so it’s hard for me to leave, but I need to go abroad to support them. The worst that I experienced when I’m not with them is when my husband died, and I didn’t go home. I have no money, so it’s hard to see that. I cannot see the last breath of my husband. My kids is, they are living without parents, so it’s hard for me.
Abby Martin: Yeah.
Linda: It’s really sad for these women, me included, that you pay a very high price to support your family, and you grow old, and you realize you’re still sacrificing. Many of our members are broken. Not just brokenhearted, well they’re also penniless. They sent all the money home. No money to take care of themselves when they go home, and they’re heartbroken. There was a time when it was more men who are leaving the country, working in Saudi, in the United States, and other countries for manufacturing, construction jobs. That era was disappearing by 1980s and beginning 1990s, so from the 1990s the migration has become feminized. Now the challenge is on the women, and the women took it. Although 6,000 Filipinos who leave every day, I could say that maybe 80% are women, and 70% of those women become domestic workers. In the Philippines, one out of four have a family member that is abroad. Now, it’s mostly women.
Abby Martin: I can’t imagine what that does to a country when that many women are leaving their family behind.
Linda: A generation of this function of families and children, with a lot of emotional and psychological problems.
Abby Martin: These women endure such personal hardships only to become victims of human trafficking and subjected to criminal working conditions.
Ria: In 2007, we met our first trafficking survivor. She was the domestic worker for the Philippine Ambassador to the UN. She worked as a nurse in the Philippines, and she was promised that she would be able to work as a nurse when she comes here, so she was asked to sign a contract basically that she would pay $5,000, and she would be able to come here and work.Then when she came here, she didn’t know that she would come here as a domestic worker for the diplomat, so she ended up cleaning three floors, house with three floors. She was serving the diplomat, his family, including his children. Her passport was taken. She was not allowed to leave the house. The house was locked from the inside.She had no phone. She had no contact with her family, to the point that she was suicidal. We met her because I think the landline, they wouldn’t even give her access to that landline. One time it rang. She picked it up. There was a Filipino on the other line. She said, “Help me. Help me.” The other woman ended up knowing the Damayan, that’s how she was connected to us.
Abby Martin: How common is that for diplomats to completely abuse the system like that?
Ria: Oh yeah, very, very common. Like what I said, we’ve been doing this work since 2007, and until recently, most of the cases we’re handling are domestic workers of diplomats. We’ve handled cases from diplomats from Japan, from Peru, from Germany. The UN is just right here. It’s like buying a slave for them. You would think this people, with their degrees and their titles, would treat another human being with dignity and respect, right? They’re supposed to be human rights defenders, but they’re the very ones who are abusing this workers, who are taking care of their homes and their children, and them. It’s mind boggling.
Abby Martin: It is. The level of dehumanization is totally mind boggling. Let’s talk about the passports being removed, and the lack of communication because people watching this may think, “Well, why can’t you just call your family? Why can’t you just warn people and say don’t do this and help me?” A lot of these people have all these things completely cut off from them.
Ria: The first thing that they do when they get a domestic worker in their homes is to take away their passport. One of the main elements of labor trafficking is control. It’s creating that climate of fear, so it’s either the control has grew physical, meaning their passport is taken, or other important documents are taken, the house is locked. I’ve never heard of houses that gets locked from the inside, but apparently that’s where diplomats set up their houses that way.
Abby Martin: It’s insane.
Ria: I know right. Who does that, really? It’s like premeditated crime, right? We’ve had a worker who worked for a diplomat in West Chester, where there’s an alarm system, so every time she stepped out to bring out the trash or get the newspaper, the alarm would beep. It would keep beeping until she enters the house again. The consulates or the embassies in the Philippines or in other countries, they’re actually aware that there is trafficking happening in the US because they would tell the workers, “If anything happens to you, call this number.” Then we’ve consistently heard of this pamphlet that was given to our members, but we’ve never seen a copy. Then yesterday, I just received a copy from our members, so it’s this one. This is the pamphlet that they would receive from the consulate from their home countries, and then usually as soon as they come here, the passport and this pamphlet would be taken away from them.Isn’t that ironic, right? It’s like, “Okay, call this number if you’re getting trafficked,” and as soon as you come here like, “Okay, I guess I can’t call them because they’re taking this. I’m actually getting trafficked right now. That’s just the irony of the situation.
Abby Martin: Ria, let’s talk about the conditions, the abusive conditions, that some of these people are living in, and the slave-like conditions essentially. Let’s start with just the pay. You said that there’s instances where you can sign up on a contract, and say you’re contracting to have this many hours for this much pay. Of course, that is violated. What about when you’re not paid at all, and you’re essentially trapped in these situations? Talk about that.
Ria: We’ve had one of our worker organizers, Lydia, she was brought here by a church. She was supposed to come here as a missionary, but she ended up working as a domestic worker for some of the top church leaders. She worked for free for three years, like zero pay. Lydia: When I was invited to come here, I was very excited and happy to have this opportunity, so in that opportunity to coming here as a missionary I get five years visa, just visa. In that contract I was told that in two years, being full time in the church, doing a fund raising in supporting the church, they would adjust my status into Green Card, but that didn’t happen to me. I ended up became domestic worker for three years, no salary. I was taking care of the three young kids for three years, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, no days off, no salary. I always hungry. I have no … I can’t talk to my friends. I can’t communicate with my family. I was told because my Green Card didn’t come, so I was told they’re going to send me back to Philippines, but then I realized I was used by this family. The reason I cannot escape in this situation, I cannot live in this situation, I don’t know anyone. I’m scared. I came as a missionary. I know people around that group. Then I was told not making a friend in the outside of that group is not safe for me. I can’t imagine going back for nothing, and then going to start from zero. What will happen to my future and my family?
Abby Martin: When they found out you were gone, they tried to contact you, and threaten you, and deport you.
Lydia: Yes. I have to hide. I don’t have anyone. Even like went to my family in Philippines looking for me.
Abby Martin: What?
Lydia: Yes. “Is Lydia here?” It was kind of scary. They’re treating me like a criminal.
AM: The placement agencies running this scam, register workers in the US, primarily through their H-2B visas for low-skilled seasonal workers, and A-3G5 visas for domestic workers of diplomats. Foreign diplomats are actually the top clients for traffickers.
Ria: For A-3G5 or domestic workers of diplomats, that means that they were recruited even from the Philippines, they were promised on paper they would earn this much, work for 40 hours a week, get paid $8 an hour, have benefits, have transportation, lodging, days off, but when they come here, they realize that it’s all a fraud. Everything that they were shown, was just for show so that their visa would be approved, and they would be able to come here. Same thing with domestic workers who go through the H-2B program. The H-2B program that’s actually low-skilled seasonal workers. The US governments quota for that is $60,000 a year or around $60,000 a year. The strategy of the placement agencies is to fill the quota. They would go to third-world countries, like Mexico, India, and the Philippines, recruit workers who are not really middle-class…with the promise of being able to come to the US. They would be forced to pay anywhere between $3,000 to $9,000. Of course these are not rich people in the Philippines. It’s a third-world country, so they would like loan the house, mortgage the house, borrow money from loan sharks. It becomes a community affair. Everyone in the family pitches in. Then when they get the money, the required as a processing fee, they’re able to come here, only to find out that there are no jobs for them, or they were promised 40 hours a week, but they’re only working anywhere from between five to ten hours.Then, of course, by that time, panic would set it because they were already expecting that they would be able to pay their debts back home. The kids would be able to go to school. It’s money for the medical bills. Then when they come here, none of that happens, so they get into like a spiral of depression and also just abuse at the hands of the placement agencies. They usually find themselves living in cramped living situations. We’re talking about like a two bedroom apartment with like three or four people in each room with no furnishings. They were earning like $50 a week. Then they still had to pay for their apartment, meanwhile they’re not earning. They were not earning. They would, when they’re cleaning the resorts, or the hotels, they would gather food that the guests had left, and they would get food in the trash. They would recook it, and then eat it.We’ve had an instance of a worker who was brought to a container van, and then they opened the van. It was filled with cockroaches. They said, “No, we’re not going in there.” The workers refused to go in there, so they bombed it with poison. Then they had to clean up the cockroaches. Imagine moving halfway around the world, and then being confronted by situation like that. You don’t know the country. You don’t know the culture. You don’t know anyone. Then you’re totally alone and desperate. A lot of the workers, like I said, are either working poor, or peasants, or middle class professionals, but even the middle class professionals, they would apply for an H-2B visa because there are no jobs back home. It’s like living in a third-world country like the Philippines, it’s like living in a burning building. You’re living in a burning building, and of course, you’re forced to jump out of the windows. In the Philippines case, you’re not just jumping out of the windows, someone is actually profiting from you, from jumping out of the windows. These are the placement agencies that are approved by the Philippine government. Then on the US side, of course there’s collaborations between the placement agencies. These agencies are tied to big hotels, and big resorts in Florida, or in other cities. Instead of hiring US born or American workers, where they have to pay minimum wage, full benefits, and other things, they will skip all of that and just hire a worker from a third-world country like the Philippines, and pay $7.50 an hour, no benefits at all. Of course, they would go with the worker, with the migrant worker.
Abby Martin: Another way these placement agencies profit from those trapped in this fraud is by charging them around seven times the amount for visa renewals, a process required every six to nine months. Even more treacherous is when the agencies refuse to renew their worker’s visas at all, trapping them in a situation where they must work illegally under threat from their employer.Ria: It’s a very desperate situation for them because now they found themselves becoming undocumented. It’s not the typical narrative that we know when we talk about undocumented people, workers, migrant workers, coming here, and then their visas not being renewed. It’s either because that placement agencies are abusive, or diplomats who are abusive and they have to run away. It’s not the typical narrative that we know.
Lydia: So they mess up my papers, but they force me to work without proper documents.
Abby Martin: The contract was being violated that you signed. Your visa wasn’t renewed. Talk about when they forced you to keep working without proper documentation. How did you make that work?
Lydia: Yeah. I feel so bad because I’m very scared to get out of my house and going to work when the manager, we will talk to the manager. They just said, “If you do not stop, you will be deported. I will called the police. Then they will put you in the chamber.” They said like that. We talk about our situation with my co-workers. We decided to escape.
Linda: Many have overstayed. It is true, Mr. Trump, many have overstayed. Why? Because there’s no other option for these women to support their children except to continue working in their receiving countries like the US. If I am a just remind, the government of the United States, our country was ruined primarily by the United States. If Mr. Trump, and [inaudible 00:23:04] are trying to think what will make immigrants go home, just create jobs in the sending country. Why is that not happening? Because the interest of the elite in the Philippines, and the interest of the corporations here are very tightly intertwined. That’s really the story. We are just your creations. If we’re going to solve this, we have to solve it on [inaudible 00:23:35] level.
Abby Martin: For Damayan, these deeper issues are at the core of their fight. They’re in a two-front battle. On one side, fighting for the rights of their workers. On the other, fighting to change the system that created this tragic crisis.Ria: There’s this quote that I really like. The workers are the true makers of history.
[foreign language 00:23:53] We’re creating this entire process, not just to help them adjust their status, or win their wage stuff, their stolen wages, but it’s also so that we can raise their consciousness. It was sad that this happened to me. It was heartbreaking that they suffered, but also that a lot of people are suffering. Trafficking survivors as a collective are suffering. The children of domestic workers are suffering. The suffering will not end if we just stop with adjusting our status and winning our cases. We can end that vicious cycle if we put the leadership of trafficking survivors at the center.
Part Two Transcript
Abby Martin: Human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry that entraps millions of people across the world. The majority of victims are abused and living in inhumane conditions. Many caught in this dark web originate from the Philippines, where human beings have become the number one export. In our last episode I visited Damayan, a Filipino domestic worker led group that organizes trafficking victims. It’s founder, Linda Oalican, explained these high numbers.
Linda Oalican: There’s no other option for these women to support their children except to continue working in their receiving countries, like the U.S. If I may just remind you, the government of the United States, our country was ruined primarily by the United States.
AM: Of course the economic crisis can’t be looked at in vacuum and all the root causes began long ago. The Philippine Islands have been choked by colonial powers for the past five centuries. Its mosaic of over 7,000 culturally distinct islands were first claimed by the Spanish Empire in 1525. Spain occupied and rules the Philippines for the next three centuries. This long history of colonial domination is, at its heart, a history of resistance. At least 300 large scale armed revolts were carried out by indigenous Filipinos against the Spanish Empire. One of the fiercest independence fighters was a woman known as Gabriela Silang, born in 1731.She rose to General in the indigenous Army and personally lead the longest lasting revolt against the colonizers all by the age of only 31 years old when she was captured and executed by Spanish troops. In 1896, Andrés Bonifacio and his underground organization, The Katipunan, declared the beginning of the Philippine revolution with an uprising against colonial forces in Manila. The revolution quickly spread through the constellation of islands. After two years of sustained rebellion and with Spain distracted by a war with the U.S., independence was imminent.
LO: About the independence from Spain, we fought our national war over independence against Spain. We already won, but then it was already, at the time, that capitalist America was rising and it was looking for other markets abroad where they could get raw materials for the industries and find new market for their products. They found the Philippines. They connived and so they negotiated with Spain at our backs to say that, “Okay, they’re about to win. You might as well want to sell this country to me. I’ll pay you and we’ll take care of them.” That was The Treaty of Paris.
AM: In 1898 the Philippines declared itself independent for the very first time, but true to the logic of empires, this was not recognized by western powers. Instead, the defeated Spanish Empire drew up an imaginary deed and signed over ownership to the United States. The U.S. also claimed Cuba, Guam and Puerto Rico in the conquest and even paid a hefty compensation for their lost colony. As one Senator said in celebration, “The Philippines are ours forever and just beyond The Philippines are China’s illimitable markets. The power that rules the Pacific is the power that rules the world.”
LO: That did not happen without a fight. The resistance of The Philippine people continued. There was a time, I think it was in 1904 or 1905, where the United States has to kill all the male population in the big island named Samar from 10 years old and above. Why? Because they were outmaneuvered by the Filipino guerrillas and many Americans were killed. The U.S. commander ordered the killing of all male inhabitants of the island from 10 years old and above.
AM: Tactics like these embodied the war on the Philippine people. As one of the American commanders said openly to the Manila Times in 1901, his orders to the troops were clear. “I want no prisoners. I wish to kill and burn. The more you kill and burn, the better you will please me. Make it a howling wilderness.” The Filipinos strongly resisted this pacification in both conventional and guerrilla tactics. They were outmatched militarily. Only about one in four Filipinos were armed with a gun, the rest with nothing but bolos and spears. Repulsed by this war, over a dozen U.S. soldiers, many of them African American, abandoned their posts to join the native resistance. One of them, David Fagen, even became a Captain in the revolutionary army, nicknamed General Fagen by Filipino freedom fighters. The U.S. rounded up tens of thousands of peasants into concentration camps and designated battle zones that made no distinction between combatants and civilians. The war was officially declared over in 1902, but a guerrilla war by the revolutionary army raged on for another decade and the atrocities continued.In 1906, U.S. forces sought to wipe out the stubborn resistance of the indigenous Moro people. When 1,000 of them, including many women and children, retreated to hide together in a nearby crater, they were mercilessly gunned down. Only six out of the 1,000 survived the massacre. The first 15 years of colonization were so brutal that the U.S. had already killed more Filipinos than the Spanish had over the previous 300 years. In that short time, over 1 million Filipinos from a population that barely numbered 6 million. While American politicians waged their pacification campaign with mass killings, they built the structure of their new colony. U.S. Army generals were installed as dictator of different regions. A series of colonial laws sought to smash any dreams of national independence. Dissidents were either given lengthy prison sentences or executed in unspeakably cruel ways. English only policies were enforced. It even became illegal to display the flag of The Philippines Republic. New trade laws and tariffs made it so that U.S. monopolies were nearly unchallenged. The islands were forced to develop as simply an export economy for a few goods like hemp, sugar and tobacco. Much of the population was subjugated as plantation workers who also served as a reserve labor force the U.S. exported to Hawaii, California and beyond to replace higher paid or striking workers.Huge logging and commercial mining projects stripped the land of raw materials and decimated the environment. Development centered on producing for U.S. capitalists, not for the Filipino people and dependence on U.S. patronage for survival. This elevated a tiny class of Filipinos. Big landlords and owners of mills and factories accumulated lavish wealth. Knowing the era of colonial rule was cracking, a comprador class was groomed to take over the formal rule from the United States.
LO: These stories were not even written in official history books of The Philippines. They are trying to cover up the ugly relationship of American and The Philippines. There was a period where The Philippines was a direct colony of the United States. The United States also experimented something very new in The Philippines, Neocolonialism. Controlling a country not by direct force, not by having Americans rule the country, but by training the elite in the country, training them, educating them, about how American wants and needs The Philippines to be to support their imperial design around the globe. That’s what happened to The Philippines beginning 1946. We were so-called given our independence after the United States has controlled the economy, the military and then the foreign relations, the education, everything that is critical and is strategic for the country, they control.
AM: That era came with the end of World War II, during which the Japanese empire attacked and occupied The Philippines. The political elite in the country dutifully switched to administrators of Japan’s occupation. Quick to show its imperials face in just one massacre, known as the Baton Death March, an estimated 18,000 captured Filipinos were killed in shootings, beatings and beheadings by Japanese soldiers. President Roosevelt made an appeal to Filipinos, “Join our Army to fight Japan and we’ll give you all the benefits of American veterans.” Over 200,000 Filipinos answered that call, but as soon as the war ended, Congress revoked all benefits for Filipinos in the U.S. military. To this day, Congress refuses to grant those benefits to the 50,000 surviving Filipino veterans.Many thousands of Filipinos organized themselves to fight the Japanese empire. The People’s Anti-Japaneses Army was born led by socialists and with over 100,000 peasants. They not only fought the occupation, but liberated large areas of the country, set up communal governments and redistributed farmland to the peasantry. Scared of this growing liberation movements, the U.S. promised to grant The Philippines independence when the warm was over; but before granting it independence it had to reconquer it. They quickly attacked the peasant movement and returned the lands to the futile landlords. With the trusted circle of elites at the helm, the U.S. granted supposed independence in 1946.While the American flag over Manila was lowered, only the form of rule had changed. The U.S. still kept a watchful eye over its colonial project. When the revolutionary army resurfaced in the late 1940s demanding land reform, the U.S. provided military aid and intelligence to help The Philippine government destroy the movement. Its investment wasn’t just for cheap labor and resources. The U.S. empire used The Philippines as its central base for imperial control of Asia, in particular during it’s wars in Korea and Vietnam. Elite after elite traded places as U.S. puppets until one of them, President Ferdinand Marcos, didn’t want to bother with the mask of democracy anymore. In 1972, Marco declared Marshall Law and ruled through a military dictatorship for the next 14 years. A socialist movement was surging, recruiting everyone from college students in the cities to farmers in the countryside. A Moro Separatist movement dominated an entire region of the country. These groups took up arms to fight Marcos’ dictatorship with the new People’s Army and the Moro National Liberation Front. Again, the U.S. empire provided millions in military training and weapons to the Filipino Army to partner in its global warm on communism. During this repression, Marcos cracked down on all political opponents. The regime jailed more than 70,000 people. As estimated 35,000 were tortured and at least 3,000 killed. For the U.S., killing communists deserved total support.When President H.W. Bush visited The Philippines in 1981, he honored Marcos with a toast saying, “We love your adherence to democracy,” but a mass movement of people who refused to give in to the dictatorship was growing. Widespread opposition forced Marcos to hold elections, which he lost. Like the pampered dictator he was, Marcos refused to step down until millions of Filipinos poured into the streets demanding his removal in 1986. While the U.S. government supported his overthrow, it still gave the Dictator sanctuary and protection in the United States for his years of loyal service, even after he fled with a billion stolen from the National Treasury. The U.S. backed successor, President Aquino, was just a cosmetic change. Although Marcos was gone, the fascist repression of the left remained and the neoliberal order deepened.I want you to elaborate more on after 1946 and the era of neocolonialism and what’s happened since. Then, of course, you have the era of neoliberalism where you had these international banking institutions, like you said, imposing these restrictions on these countries and mandating certain things to remove social welfare, etc. Talk about how that shaped The Philippines.
LO: You see how The Philippines is primarily an agricultural country. Like 70% of our people are farmers. Not all own the lands. Many are landless and only maybe about 15% are workers. Yeah and dwindling. The number of workers are going down. Why? Also, the number of farmers are going down, too. Why? Because the economy has been undermined. We have a vibrant agricultural economy in the Sixties and early on, but it was destroyed by capitalist agriculture. What the U.S. agriculture did was to deepen the problems and the contradictions in the agricultural sector. Like the small workers became smaller, they lost the opportunity even to support themselves from the wages that they were making before and the middle farmers who owned small lands lost their lands, because they became poorer, they sold their lands, right?Those that are big, became bigger. The landlords became collaborators, I would say. They work hand in hand with the agribusiness in the U.S. and other capitalist countries, because right now The Philippines is not producing all the rice that it needs. We’re very dependent on rice. We even have rice for desserts. We eat rice three times a day and we use rice for dessert. That’s how bad Filipinos want rice, but now we import rice.
AM: That’s insane.
LO: We import rice right now. The Dictator Marcos, he was the President when I was in high school and college in the 1960s and in the 1970s. When he became President, he embraced with open arms the policies of privatization, deregulation, and neo-liberalization of the IMF. What does that mean? Smaller government. Meaning get the money out of the government, which translates to lesser services for the people so that’s what happened. I was an activist in The Philippines in the 1970s at the time the impact of American economic interests in The Philippines is already well known especially to the students in the academia. I was part of the student body trying to educate our people that a big part of our problem, poverty and the unemployment in the country, is the subservience of our government to the neoliberal policies of the United States in the country. As a result of those impositions by the International Monetary Fund, many of the government services were really cut down and the people did not just have enough to access basic services for themselves. Water and electricity, those were very prohibitive. If you own a refrigerator in the country you would really worry about paying the electric bills. It was bad. You can just imagine how during the time of Marcos in the 1970s how they the young people, the unemployed and the students, were really up in arms. Their families do not have the basic services, the tuitions are high, there are no jobs. What will they do? They organized and they were really calling for the government to push back on the IMF conditionalities, but Marcos did not do that.What he did was he invented the Labor Export Policy of The Philippines. The Labor Export Policy means the government programmatically and systematically convinced the people that the right way to go to support your family is to find work abroad. That’s the Labor Export Policy. That was in the 1970s. It’s an invention of Marcos. He was so brilliant, he told the young people, especially the male ones, “Okay, you’re looking for work. The work is abroad. I’m happy to help you.” That was also a strategy to diffuse the student movement and the youth movement, because there were so may rallies in the street. What now? There is no agriculture, there is no industrialization in The Philippines. All you have the driving economy in The Philippines is the export of labor. That’s why over 10% of the people are abroad.
AM: This is the story behind thousands of families with the heartbreaking burden of being ripped across oceans only to find super exploitation and abuse in the same country that shaped their fates for the past century. Today the U.S. empire has no willingness to lose hold on the geostrategic Philippine islands and the cast of western backed autocrats continue their role. Decades of neoliberal ravaging and a war on the left has given rise to right wing populist Duterte, promising national sovereignty along with a new era of law and order. Since winning the presidency, Duterte has carried out a murderous war on drugs defined by extra judicial assassinations that have left thousands dead.Once again, Filipinos find themselves under Marshal Law in another extreme measure imposed by Duterte in May. He came to power with rhetoric against U.S. imperialism, but it will take a lot to sever the deep ties with the empire. The Philippines is still tens of billions in debt to the IMF and with development projects like USAID, the U.S. continues to push through Philippine laws and policies that benefit U.S. corporations. Although a mass movement forced the closure of major American bases in 1992, the U.S. still maintains a major military presence, conducts joint war games and has built up a proxy force in the Filipino Army. Already allies, Trump and Duterte have signaled they will strengthen their military relationship under the banner of fighting terrorism. In fact, just this month the U.S. gifted Duterte’s government a weapon shipment of hundreds of machine guns and grenade launchers, but there’s a force more powerful than these two strong men that can change all of this.
LO: My understanding of change is truly learning and respecting the value of the poor people for change. The people that are directly effected by problems, those are the people that you need if you want to make fundamental change. Not the senators or the congress people. Not them, because if you look at the interests of these people in the government, what interests will you see? In The Philippines, we know the interests of the bourgeoisie where an export-import country so families, people who are running that industry, those are the people that are running our country too. I’m really unsatisfied. I look at things from a long perspective. It’s very sad. I was an activist when I was 18 years old. How many more years so that the country can do the right thing? How many more presidents?
AM: Meeting the courageous fighters in Damayan, I was reminded that the history of Philippine resistance is an unbroken chain. From its first hand-to-hand battles against colonizers wearing armor and swords to organizing against today’s exploiters who wear three piece suits. The poor and oppressed in The Philippines are much more than victims of the system, but are indeed the force that will change it.
WATCH // YouTube.com/EmpireFiles