Thursday, November 06, 2008

Centerstage / UPI Asia
Alexander Martin Remollino

Manila, Philippines, November 06 — How will a Barack Obama presidency affect Filipino migrants in the United States?

This question has arisen following the election of Obama, in part because the U.S. president-elect’s father is a Kenyan who migrated to Hawaii and lived there for two years before divorcing his mother, a white American from Kansas, when he was two years old.

“The (Obama administration’s) policy on immigrants may be more relaxed,” said Philippine Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero. “He is the first U.S. president who has a non-American father, and he understands the situation of immigrants.”

Not only is the United States –- a nation largely peopled by the descendants of immigrants –- home to one of the largest Filipino migrant communities in the world. It is also the Philippines’ biggest source of remittances, with 51 percent of the latter’s remittances coming from the U.S.

These remittances are, for the most part, the life jacket that keeps the Philippine economy afloat even as it is perpetually ridden by deficit and debt.

How an Obama presidency will treat Filipino migrants in the U.S. will surely affect not only the Filipino-American community, but also the Philippines itself.

Escudero had a point in bringing up the issue of tight immigration policies, which have burdened those forced out of their homelands by the need to seek greener pastures abroad.

That, however, is just one part of the matter. The greater issue is how an Obama administration will respond to the needs of Filipino migrants who are starting to feel the effects of the U.S. financial crisis.

The U.S. has always beckoned to people across the globe with its promises of being a land of opportunity, and Filipinos have not been exempt from this. Since the first decades of the 20th century, ever-growing numbers of Filipinos have migrated to the U.S. in search of opportunities unavailable in the homeland largely due to the ravages of colonialism and neocolonialism. Confronting racism that lingers even today, these Filipinos spent the best years of their lives working to establish decent livelihoods in a country 10,000 miles away from their motherland.

Now the 4 million Filipinos in the United States are increasingly seeing the fruits of their and their forebears’ labor crumble to the ground –- with the country they have learned to also call home being in the grip of an economic crisis surpassed, in magnitude, only by the Great Depression of the 1930s.

In 2001, U.S. financial institutions offered low interest rates for home mortgage loans; even those with low income or virtually no collateral were encouraged to apply for home loans. Their loans, which became known as “subprime mortgages,” accumulated in U.S. financial institutions, starting in 2001. To spread the risk exposure of banks for these subprime mortgages, there was a process of “securitization” in which home mortgage loan packages were combined with others, packaged and sold as bonds and securities called collateralized debt obligations. These were guaranteed in credit default swaps by insurance companies and sold to other banks, financial investment houses and companies in the U.S. that deal in speculative investments for high returns.

But since the last quarter of 2006, borrowers –- especially those with subprime mortgages – increasingly failed to pay their amortizations. This caused a ripple effect on the banks and investment houses holding both the mortgages and the CDOs, as well as those which issued CDs, leading to a series of bankruptcies of banks and investment houses which were touted as “too big to fail.”

The U.S. financial crisis has led to company closures and the subsequent losses of jobs. Various news accounts show that some 750,000 jobs have been wiped out in the U.S. as a result of the crisis.

Filipinos are increasingly among those finding themselves without jobs in the U.S. as the crisis goes on. This has resulted in reduced remittance flows, the adverse effects of which the Philippine economy is starting to feel.

The Obama administration should face not only the issue of tight immigration laws, but also the needs of Filipino immigrants in the U.S. who are increasingly being weighed down by the financial crisis.

It will be interesting to see how an Obama administration will respond to the U.S. financial crisis, given that both he and his opponent, John McCain, received campaign contributions from Wall Street. According to the Sept. 16 issue of the Wall Street Journal, Obama received $191,000 from Merrill Lynch, $361,000 from Lehman Brothers, and $80,000 from Fannie Mae –- to name only a few.

These are just some of the financial institutions that have put the United States and the American people into the mess they are now in, and which the U.S. government has had to bail out even as those who bear the brunt of the crunch –- including more and more Filipino migrants –- are left to fend for themselves.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Early last month, Rakman Suleik and his 17-year-old son Samsudin, together with a few others, fled from the fighting between government troops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Aleosan, North Cotabato. They had evacuated, to safety or so they thought, at the house of a certain Colonel Maguid of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Barangay (village) Nalapaan in Pikit, North Cotabato. But even in the house that had served as their refuge, they would not be safe from atrocities by soldiers.


Early last month, Rakman Suleik and his 17-year-old son Samsudin, together with a few others, fled from the fighting between government troops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Aleosan, North Cotabato. They had evacuated, to safety or so they thought, at the house of a certain Colonel Maguid of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Barangay (village) Nalapaan in Pikit, North Cotabato.

But even in the house that had served as their refuge, they would not be safe from atrocities by soldiers.

A few minutes past midnight on Oct. 16, the evacuees at Colonel Maguid’s house heard violent raps on the door. A man from outside gave them five seconds to open the door, after which, he threatened, the house would be fired upon.

Ustadz Omar Salasal and his wife opened the door, whereupon soldiers barged in bearing bolos. They threatened to hack the evacuees with the bolos, ordered them to lie on the floor face down, and started beating them up. “Inapakan ako sa mukha (They stepped on my face),” Salasal told the delegates of a recent National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission (NIHM) to Pikit, North Cotabato and Datu Piang, Maguindanao.

The women and children were then separated from the men and locked up in a room. One of the soldiers then asked Salasal’s wife if there was anyone upstairs. She answered in the negative, but the soldier refused to believe her and dragged her upstairs. The soldier saw Rakman there, hiding in the ceiling, and ordered him to go down.

Kinaladkad si Rakman at tinadyakan noong pababa sila ng hagdan (They dragged Rakman and kicked him as they were descending the stairs),” Salasal told the NIHM delegates.

Samsudin said he saw his father being beaten up. “Binugbog ang tatay ko, pinilipit ang tainga niya, at napaiyak siya dahil sa paninipa sa likod niya (My father was beaten up, his ears were twisted, and he broke into tears because his back was being kicked)” he said.

A few moments later, Samsudin said, he was accosted by the soldiers, who asked him who his father is. “No’ng malamang tatay ko si Rakman, sinipa ako at inapakan sa ulo, at saka inilabas ako (When they learned Rakman is my father, they kicked me and stepped on my head, and brought me out),” he said.

As all these were taking place, Salasal said, Colonel Maguid’s mother was pleading with the soldiers not to hurt the civilians. A soldier responded by taking one of the flashlights in the house and inserting it into the mouth of Colonel Maguid’s mother.

After that, the soldiers took Rakman and Samsudin outside the house and beat them up some more before speeding away with them in an Army truck. When the soldiers -– whom Salasal had identified as belonging to the 40th Infantry Battalion by the lettering on the Army truck they had used in the raid –- had gone a considerable distance, the other evacuees fled.

Samsudin said they were taken near another evacuation center, where the soldiers tied them to an ipil-ipil tree and continued beating them up.

Rakman is now detained at the Aleosan Municipal Jail. The soldiers had brought them there after beating them up while tied to the ipil-ipil tree.

Do’n na lang po namin nalamang may kaso sa kanya (It was only there that we learned there is a case against him),” Samsudin said. “Hindi po alam ng tatay ko na may kaso pala siya (My father didn’t know that there was a case against him).”

Hindi ko po alam kung bakit kami ang tinatarget (I don’t know why we were being targeted),” Samsudin told the NIHM delegates.

As of Oct. 24, there was still no definite information as to whether or not Rakman had been charged with any offense. (

Monday, November 03, 2008


Mohalidin Unsi insists that the bombing attack by an OV 10 aircraft that killed four children, his wife and father-in-law, September 8, while they were fleeing on a boat was deliberate. He said they were even fired upon by soldiers while they were retrieving the bodies of the dead children.


Mohalidin Unsi, his pregnant wife, father-in-law, and some neighbors, including children, were fleeing from their homes in Sitio (sub-village) Dagading, Barangay (village) Tee in Datu Piang, Maguindanao just as a fighter plane was dropping bombs in the area at around 9-10 a.m. on Sept. 8. Suddenly, one bomb was dropped near the boat that carried the children.

Unsi thinks the attack on the children was deliberate. “Alam nilang mga sibilyan kami dahil may mga bata, pero hinulugan pa rin ng bomba (They could tell we are civilians because there were children with us, but still they dropped bombs near us),” he told the delegates to a recent National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission (NIHM) to Pikit, North Cotabato and Datu Piang, Maguindanao.

At first, he said the fighter plane of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which he identified as an OV 10 aircraft, seemed to be dropping the bombs just anywhere.

Because of the children’s seating arrangement, the boat carrying them was in danger of capsizing, so they were made to alight and rearrange their places. “Ang lupang binabaan nila ang hinulugan ng bomba (It was on the part of the soil where they had set foot that the bomb was dropped),” Unsi said.

Four of the children were killed, while six, including his wife’s brother, 13-year-old Guiamaludin, were wounded. The dead children were identified as Bailyn, 9; Zakarudin, 7; Adtayan, 5; and Faidza, 2 –- all siblings of his wife, Aida Mandi. Aida and her father Daya were also killed.

Unsi and his neighbors gathered the four children’s bodies one by one and brought them to a nearby road, where there were soldiers. “No’ng iniaahon na ang mga bata, pinagbababaril pa rin kami kahit mga sibilyan kami (While we were bringing the dead children from the river, the soldiers began shooting at us even though we are civilians),” he said.

After that he returned to the river for the remains of his wife and father-in-law.

Binigyan ako (ng mga sundalo) ng 30 minuto para balikan ang asawa at biyenan ko, at pagkatapos no’n, babarilin na ako (The soldiers gave me 30 minutes to go back for the bodies of my wife and father-in-law, after which they would shoot me),” Unsi said. “Asawa ko na lang ang nabalikan ko dahil natakot na ako (It was only my wife’s corpse that I was able to bring back, because I feared for my life).”

(His father’s body was retrieved only in the afternoon of the next day, when there were fewer soldiers in the vicinity.)

Site of encounters

Brgy. Tee, where Sitio Dagading is located, is one of the major areas of fighting between government troops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). But Unsi is sure there was no encounter between the military and the MILF the day they were bombed.

There had been encounters between government troops and the MILF as early as June 30 in Sitio Maligaya, Brgy. Malamote in Kabacan, North Cotabato.

The next day, another skirmish took place in Sitio Tubak, Brgy. Pagangan in Aleosan, North Cotabato. The MILF fighters who figured in this firefight were identified as belonging to the 105th Brigade, led by Commander Ameril Ombra Kato.

The weeks before these incidents saw massive military deployment to North Cotabato, supposedly to secure the province for the Aug. 11 elections in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

These encounters drove community residents to evacuate to Brgy. Bagolibas in Aleosan and Brgys. Bual and Nalapaan in Pikit.

Later that same month, armed men burned some houses in Brgy. Bual and stole a number of farm animals in Brgy. Bagolibas.

On Aug. 2, some 84 houses in Aleosan were razed to the ground. The government claimed that these burnings were perpetrated by MILF fighters led by Kato.

On Aug. 8, four days after the Supreme Court’s issuance of a temporary restraining order on the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) between the government and the MILF, the military implemented Oplan Ultimatum and additional troops were positioned in Pikit, Aleosan, and Midsayap. This, and the dissolution of the government panel in the peace negotiations with the MILF, served as prelude to the intensification of the fighting in North Cotabato.

While clashes continue in North Cotabato, the fighting has also spread to nearby Maguindanao.

Military operations have led residents of affected areas to flee to evacuation centers.

A consequence of the armed conflict

Unsi is well aware that what happened to his family is among the consequences of a long-running conflict that is more than military in character.

Sana, ibigay na ng gobyerno ang hinihingi ng Bangsamoro at itigil na ang bakbakan, dahil ang apektado ay ang mga sibilyan (I hope the government addresses the demands of the Bangsamoro and the fighting would stop, because civilians are the ones affected),” Unsi said.

Sana po, agad na matigil ang kaguluhang ito para matigil na ang paghihirap ng mga sibilyan (I hope this fighting will stop soon so that the civilians’ sufferings will end),” he also said. “Papatayin ba ang lahat ng sibilyan bago matigil ang kaguluhan? (Will they kill all the civilians before the fighting would stop?)” (

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Alexander Martin Remollino

Isang bayan tayong hindi nasasakop
ng mga hanggan ng heograpiya.
Tayo'y nahahati sa kayraming pirasong nakakalat
sa lahat ng sulok nitong daigdig,
sapagkat itong ating lupain
ay pinaghahati-hatian ng mga tagaibang-bayan,
mga tagaibang-bayang inaari ang hindi kanila
at ninanakawan tayo ng tahanan sa sariling lupain.

Ang tirahan mo at ang tirahan ko
ay pinapaghihiwalay ng sampung libong milya,
kahit na iisa lamang ang ating tahanang lupain.

At ang nagbubuklod sa atin
ay ang iisang kasaysayan ng pagkakataboy
at ang iisang pakikitalad para sa pagsapit ng araw
na matitipon sa wakas ang mga pirasong nakakalat
sa buong daigdig,
at silang naghahati-hati sa lupang hindi kanila
ay tatakbong lahat na bahag ang mga buntot
mula sa ating lupain.