By Harvey I. Barkin
CUPERTINO – An alliance of four community/activist groups focused on addressing Filipino issues hosted a Forum on President Rodrigo Duterte last July 15 at De Anza College.
The alliance extolled Duterte who “promotes pro-people policies, genuine development and just and lasting peace.” So said the Brotherhood for Duterte U.S.A., Digong Duterte Supporters (Northern California), National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) and Migrante Northern California.
NAFCON Consultant and Panel Speaker Rico Foz said, “We’re tired of an economy that soothes a few families who are in cahoots with foreign investors who are tied up with a government focused on enriching themselves and a military that protects them.”
Foz also said, “Only the Ayalas, (Henry) Sy, (Manny) Pangilinan and (Lucio) Tan profited when the country’s GNP went up. But our people are hungrier than before.”
“With a new president comes new hope. “ Foz also urged the assembled crowd of concerned community leaders to forget past labels of “leftists”. He said, “Bernie Sanders campaigned under socialism and nearly won. In the Bay Area, there are plenty of jobs but no takers because of gentrification. The rent is too high. There are more poor people than rich. Only the rich can afford to campaign for election. The U.S. is a copy of the Philippines.”
“We chose the lesser evil in the Philippines. Now we have a president who appreciates dialogs. For the first time, rallies are welcome in Malacanang.”
Foz also said, “I’m personally afraid of threats to the life of President Duterte. The people must protect him.” The Forum tagged Duterte as “the change we need.” Foz said, “We need to be not just agents but combatants of change.”
Panel speaker and Migrante’s Bernadette Herrera shared her experiences as an activist, undocumented domestic helper and volunteer for immigrant rights. She expressed the loneliness and the sad reunion of family members torn apart by the necessity of earning a living wherever it can be found. She revealed the inadequacy of finding the means to live but not being able to go back home and then finding family members who are strangers after a long time.
“Those who plundered riches and resources should be held accountable. They should be jailed and the money returned to the people. I wish the guilty would die.”
Just like Foz, Herrera urged that the Philippine government should not neglect the farmers who make up 70 percent of the population. Foz said agrarian reform just like in Japan, Latin America and Europe would make the Philippines progressive. Herrera moved to remove the contracts that bind farmers with no benefits and for their children to have free education.
Panel speaker and Brotherhood for Duterte Coordinator Reynaldo Aralar Jr. listed Duterte’s accomplishments and legislations since he was Davao City Mayor in 1988. Digong Duterte Supporters’ Shalom Lorenzana was also a panel speaker but he sent a video of his talk.
In an exclusive interview with FilAm Star, two of the panelists replied to these questions:
FAS: Marcos is Ilocano, Duterte is Visayan. Visayans are supposed to be gentle as Ilocanos are supposed to be brash. Some say that when Duterte says, “I’ll kill you” you shouldn’t interpret it literally. Some say the nuance in the dialects is to blame for the “misunderstandings”.
Aralar: “You have to understand that Duterte grew up in the province, where the people are more earthly and cussing is common. There could be some strategy there, though. In his campaign, when he cussed he got media mileage and eventually got elected. Duterte came from small means. But we shouldn’t fault him for that. You shouldn’t take him seriously when he cusses. We have old folks who cuss. It’s part of life.”
FAS: Duterte virtually alienated everyone: politicians, businessmen, women, the military and even the Church. If, as some studies project, there’s a coup d’état or Duterte is taken out, who can he count on for support?
Aralar: “Prior to the election, it was the trend that he had the pulse of the people. That translated into a record landslide victory of 16 million votes. That’s 16 million supporters. And he’s still winning over people with all the changes he has made. I enumerated all that he has done in Davao. Can you imagine if he can do the same for the whole country?”
FAS: There might be resistance from the old guards because of the outer fringe people Duterte invites for talks: LGBT members, communists, Muslim extremists and the like. How can Duterte win back those old guards if this keeps up?
Aralar: “It’s now time for us to invite all these ‘leftists’. Why are they still called leftists? Opposing the government? We need to understand why. I’m old enough to understand where it started – KMU, LFS, Martial Law. Jo Mari Sison is there now . It’s time to bury the hatchet. I like that Duterte is also reaching out to our Muslim brothers, Abu Sayyaf. I would like for them to begin the discussions so we end the hostilities now. Maybe there’s a median we can reach so we can achieve peace without having to carpet bomb anybody.
Q: In the bigger picture, would we rather have no drug lord in the country or lose sovereignty in our own territories?
Foz: “With regards to bilateral talks, that’s the President’s decision. Let’s see what happens. I don’t want to pre-empt the President’s plans. But for NAFCON, we will stay vigilant, protecting the national sovereignty of the Philippines. And if the President will take the same line, we will support him. If not, we have to oppose him.”
“Change can’t be done with just one president. If we wanted to make changes, it’s the people who make history. And if the President sides with that, then he becomes part of history.”
Q: Duterte adapts a harsh stance against criminality and is buddy-buddy with Marcos Jr. Does that mean the Philippines might be closer to another Martial Law era?
Aralar: “I don’t believe that Duterte will impose Martial Law because he’s inviting leftists for discussions. They will serve as fiscalizers. I believe Duterte needs special powers to address certain economic situations, the Metro-Manila traffic, re-direct things from Luzon and spread them out to Visayas and Mindanao. I don’t think he’ll get special powers to be able to impose Martial Law. There’s no reason why he should do so. Neither would there be in the future.”
“I just don’t believe Marcos Jr. would win over Robredo (as Vice-president). And I’m not in favor of allowing Marcos Sr.’s remains to be interred at the Libingan ny mga Bayani.”