KASAMA Vol. 18 No. 3 / July-August-September 2004 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Filipinos rally against Downer's insults

Filipinos in the southern Australian state of Victoria held a lunch-time rally in Melbourne at the steps of the Victorian Parliament building on Friday, July 30 to express their criticisms and anger at Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer's derogatory remarks against the Philippine government's decision to withdraw the Philippine humanitarian contingent in Iraq in exchange for the release of Angelo de la Cruz.

Melba Marginson of the Centre for Philippine Concerns Australia (CPCA) said: "Our Australian leaders should be wise not to belabour the issue and remember how the Philippines had readily joined the U.S.-led war against terror and the Coalition of the Willing, despite objections at home."

Maria Selga, CPCA-Victoria chairperson also states, "The U.S. has been abusing its friendship with the Philippines, and they're doing it again in their fight against international terrorism. We hope the Australian government will distance itself from the United States of America, as America's credibility is now in serious doubt over the war on Iraq".

This statement was read at the rally:

An Urgent Appeal for Redress from Filipino-Australians

As members and supporters of the Centre for Philippine Concerns Australia, a non-profit community organisation that promotes the rights and welfare of Filipinos in Australia, we urge Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer to withdraw the inflammatory remarks he made earlier this week about the Philippine Government's decision to pull out its troops from Iraq, one month before their scheduled departure. Likewise, we would like Prime Minister John Howard to ease the tension created by his Minister's statements by humbly offering his hand in peace to the Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

As Filipino-Australians, we identify strongly with both countries. It is not helpful for either country to lose the strategic alliance they have always had as neighbours and as countries with a common goal of achieving global peace.

We would like to remind the Prime Minister and Minister Downer of the historical role of the Philippines in saving Australia from Japanese invasion during the Second World War. Close to a hundred thousand Filipino troops held on for five months in Bataan and Corregidor... Historical accounts of that time highlighted the many heroic acts of tens of thousands of Filipino soldiers who died and were wounded from that infamous war.

It should also be noted that the Philippines has been doing the hard work of fighting terrorism and insurgency within its own territory, not only after 9/11, but decades ago since Muslim insurgency began in the 1960s. The Philippine Government was and is far from acting like a "marshmallow" as Mr. Downer put it in his insulting way. On the contrary, the Filipino government has been very tough on its own Muslim and Communist insurgents. In fact, the Philippine government has been so tough that it has been accused of violating the United Nations' convention on human rights.

The claim that the withdrawal of the Philippines from Iraq has especially exposed Australia to terrorism is ridiculous. Where is the logic in this? Why is Australia especially affected, of all the nations currently in Iraq? No other nation is making the same claim as Mr Downer. The sole concern of the Philippines was the protection of one million contract workers living abroad. Doesn't the Australian government always put the interests of its own people first? What is marshmallow-like about this? On the contrary, it would be behaving like a marshmallow, to give in to the American, and now Australian, pressure and sell out the Filipino people abroad to a failed American policy!

As Filipino-Australians, we want to be able to feel comfortable living in this country, which we now call our home. We can only feel we truly belong here if our Australian leaders treat our country of origin with respect and understanding. Australia should stop behaving as the Deputy Sheriff of George Bush in this region of the globe or it will soon lose all the friends it has earned in Asia.

Filipino-Australians number more than a hundred thousand and we are the third largest Asian-born population in Victoria. And, Filipino-Australians vote.

Melba Marginson,
CPCA National Convenor
July 30, 2004 - Melbourne, Victoria