International Solidarity Conference 2001
Philippine Civil Society and International Solidarity Partners:
Strengthening Local & Global Advocacy Initiatives
Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines, 24-26 August 2001
... Filipinos have a history in Australia that goes back long before the white men came there. It is documented that Filipinos were in Australia at least since the mid 1800s and some of us have attempted to find our family links with the Australian Aboriginal people. If you think about our waterways; how they connect us from southern Philippines to the northern tip of Australia and down the coastline, you can see how our people migrated across our Asia-pacific waters.
The lessons we have learned from Aboriginal Australia are about relationships with the people they call "the whitefellas", with the Anglo-Celts who came as conquerors to their land. These lessons brought about for us some new ways of working. Certainly, in terms of recognizing traditional ownership of land and paying respect to the Indigenous peoples on whose land we now reside. Because we share with Aboriginal people the basic principle of the love for land and life.
Normally, when I stand up anywhere in Australia to speak, I introduce myself and pay my respects to the Indigenous owners of the land. I find that difficult to do here today, because I have no idea who were the original inhabitants of the land upon which UP-Diliman is built. I imagine they were the Ayta peoples.
I will tell you a bit about CPCA and SPAN, the two organizations that I am representing at this conference. ... CPCA is an all-Filipino organization. It is a solidarity formation in its own right. SPAN is composed of Filipinos and non-Filipinos. It is a descendant of the previous solidarity formations which were called PASGs or Philippine Action Support Groups and later Philippines Australia Solidarity Groups. SPAN is a network. Networking, for us is also one of the new ways of working.
In the past, we had one way of working and that was with the Philippines itself determining the Australian solidarity agenda. Many of us Filipinos and non-Filipinos were not happy with that way of organizing because certain issues were not considered important enough to address. So, we came up with two guiding principles for international solidarity work. SPAN was founded as a national network, with a newsletter and campaigns (and lately a website) on a scale appropriate to our resources. The two guiding principles that we settled upon in 1994 was (1) independence and (2) equality and mutual benefit. With these, we intended to build the broadest support for the Philippine struggle.
In the second half of the 1980s, the number of Filipino activists that came to Australia increased. They brought new ways of working and this led us, in the late 80s, to change the way we organize. We started discussing issues like our identity as a Filipino community, and which sectors we specifically wanted to focus our energies toward. We stated that we are Filipinos, not Filipino-Australians; we are Filipinos who happen to reside in Australia. We decided to direct our energies towards the most oppressed sectors and we identified those two sectors as being women and Indigenous peoples. Along with the change of direction, we certainly had to change our style of work. We cannot just have new theories with old practice. So, we broadened the range of groups, both in the Philippines and in Australia, with whom we have partnerships and dialogue.
Australia is such a large country; it is a continent as big as America but with a very small population. We decided that the local situation of any one group would determine how that group would work. We could not take direction from a center that is organizing in a big city, like Melbourne for instance, and apply the same methodology of work to a small provincial city like Brisbane. So, although CPCA has two Chapters, each has its autonomy and we tend to work in different ways that reflect the differences in our membership.
Our other new ways of working is to have no pre-determined prescriptive politics; that we would not work exclusively on international solidarity; and we changed from a bilateral mode of working to having multilateral relationships.
Amongst Filipinos residing in Australia there is a gender ratio of two to one. There are two Philippines-born women for each Philippines-born man; this is a very peculiar community composition. We had to start taking up the issues of domestic violence, serial sponsorship, sex tourism, paedophilia, prostitution and the trafficking industry, and in particular the cases of deaths and disappearances of Filipino women and their children in Australia.
To quote some shocking statistics from CPCA's on-going research: "Since 1980, 3 Filipino children and 21 Filipino women have been killed; one woman survived an attempted murder, 2 women died in a mass suicide incident, 5 women and 2 children have disappeared. Seven of the accused were convicted of murder and five of manslaughter (1 man killed two children, another also murdered the woman's estranged husband.) As well, one man committed suicide after attempting to murder his wife and killing his child. The husband, in the case of one missing woman, has since committed suicide. In three cases the result of the trial is not known. Of the two trials which resulted in acquittals, one man though he was acquitted of the murder of his second wife was eventually convicted of murdering his first wife. All 34 victims are Filipinos and where the ethnicity of the perpetrators is known, all but two to the best of our knowledge, are non-Filipinos."
The Filipino community has a very high incident of spousal homicide. It is nearly six times the national Australian average. So you can see why we had to take up women's advocacy work whether it is 'popular' or not. It is not a 'nice' subject and some community groups do not like these issues being aired, so perhaps that is why we have a relatively small membership.
Our forms of actions have included mass and public mobilizations, research and publication. We participate in study tours and conferences both in Australia and the Philippines. We also have our Philippine-based partner organisations to thank for the successful outcome of our women's advocacy work. On Indigenous peoples' advocacy work, we also make strong friendships with Australian Indigenous activists in the places where we organize. This includes the Indigenous communities in the Philippines. In the sphere of international solidarity, we maintain contact with individual activists and organizations in the Philippines and abroad.
Recently, digital organizing has become a reality for many groups, resulting in lower costs of dialogue and speed of information. Yet, we are often faced with the question of the digital divide even in Australia and we constantly remind ourselves that not all people have access to this technology particularly those living in the rural areas.
I have here an article published some years ago in our newsletter on the Philippine Debt Crisis and here is the current issue with the headline "Drop The Debt". We have not dropped the issues we took up for advocacy 15-20 years ago. What has changed is our ways of working.