April 3, 2009
Reference: Rhonda Ramiro, Secretary-General,
BAYAN USA, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
3rd BAYAN USA Congress a Resounding Success in the Midst of VFA, Economic Crisis, and Obama Administration
The US Chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, or BAYAN USA, held its 3rd Congress last March 27-28 in Los Angeles. California. The proceedings took place at the UCLA Downtown Labor Center in Downtown Los Angeles. A resounding success, the Congress mobilized nearly 200 participants from over six cities in the United States, including New York City, Jersey City, Seattle, Portland, the San Francisco Bay Area, and San Diego.
Day 1 Preceding the Congress opening on Friday, March 27th, Congress participants staged an action in front of the Philippine Consulate along Wilshire Boulevard. Waving BAYAN USA flags and with loud chants of “Junk VFA!” the nearly 50 demonstrators registered opposition to the US-RP Visiting Forces Agreement. The action was successful despite Consulate security harassment against the protesters to stay off of Consulate grounds.
At 2:30pm, the Congress session opened with a prayer invocation delivered by Pastor Roy Padilla of the Rosewood United Methodist Church in Los Angeles. The invocation was followed by a community singing of “BAYAN KO” by the Congress participants. The BAYAN USA Executive Committee (EC), chaired by outgoing Vice-Chair Raquel Redondiez, held a roll call of all voting delegates from the delegates table. The first order of business for the Congress was the approval of new member organizations– Anakbayan East Bay (Oakland), Anakbayan San Diego, and Sisters of Gabriela, Awaken (SiGAW) in Los Angeles. The membership of the 3 organizations was unanimously approved.
Next Redondiez introduced the Congress keynote speaker– Dr. Carol Pagaduan-Araullo, Chair of BAYAN Philippines– who delivered her speech and update on the Philippine national situation over video. Following Dr. Araullo’s keynote address was a moving cultural performance by the Pacific Northwest Contingent.
The EC then began with the presentations of the executive committee reports for January 2007 thru March 2009. Berna Ellorin, outgoing Secretary-General, began with the EC report, focusing on communications, meetings, division of labor and line functions, tactical plans, and communications with BAYAN Philippines. Ellorin also delivered a report on national media and propaganda work of the alliance. Kuusela Hilo, outgoing Deputy Secretary-General, delivered the National Council report, which focused on monthly communications with the national council, uniting on tactical plans and actions, and nationally-coordinated actions and campaigns. Hilo was followed by outgoing Finance officer Jeff Rice who delivered the first ever national finance report for the alliance. Rice was followed by Redondiez who delivered a report on sectoral expansion, exposures to the Philippines, and the breakthrough formation of GABRIELA USA, the first overseas chapter of GABRIELA Philippines.
Following a cultural performance by the Bay Area contingent, solidarity messages of various organizations, including the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), Al-Awda:Palestinian Right to Return Alliance, Chelsea Uniting Against the War, the School of Unity and Liberation (SOUL), and the International Action Center were read out loud. This was followed by a video solidarity message from Dr. Chandu Claver, Chairperson of BAYAN Canada. After this the Congress session was adjourned and dinner was served to the Congress participants.
Day 2 Jasen Ildefonzo of SF-Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines opened the second day of the Congress session with a “rowdy roll call” of Congress delegates and participants. This was followed by a recap of the day 1 session by Redondiez and a cultural presentation by the Southern California contingent. An international situation was presented by Professor Jose Maria Sison, Chair of the International League of People’s Struggle (ILPS) and Chief Political Consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). Notable points were the rapidly intensifying world contradictions between US imperialism and the oppressed peoples of the world in light of the worst global economic crisis in world history and the favorable conditions for great advances in people’s resistance. The presentation was followed by a live question-and-answer period between Sison and Congress participants. Sison fielded questions from 11 participants on a broad range of topics, including the importance of international solidarity, what the Obama administration portends for progressive organizing, the role of culture in advancing people’s movements, whether the ecological crisis will provide new terrain for the next venture capitalist bubble, and how to build the leadership of LGBTQII people in the national democratic movement.
Chito Quijano, outgoing Chair, then delivered a report on alliance building efforts. Quijano highlighted BAYAN USA’s leadership in building participation and a national presence of ILPS in the U.S. BAYAN USA helped mobilize over 20 people to attend the founding assembly of the International Migrants Alliance (IMA) and the ILPS Third International Assembly combined in Hong Kong in 2008.
A situationer of Filipinos in the United States was also presented by Rhonda Ramiro, BAYAN USA Regional Coordinator for the Northern California region. Ramiro presented national statistics on the Filipino working poor in the United States and major job sectors filled by Filipino-Americans. The report also confirmed Filipinos in the US as being a population significantly affected by the economic downturn with employment lay-offs, foreclosures, evictions, and tuition fee hikes.
Next were the regional reports presented by each BAYAN USA region in the US– Southern California, Northern California, Pacific Northwest, and Northeast. This was followed by a presentation facilitated by Redondiez and Rice of the proposed by-law amendments and resolutions for approval by the Congress. Notable resolutions that were unanimously approved include immersion into the struggles of low-income Filipino workers, mobilization for the upcoming International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees to be held in Greece in November 2009, and a shift of Congress meetings from every two years to every three years.
Following a cultural presentation by the Northeast contingent, Ellorin and Hilo presented a proposed General Program of Action for 2009 thru 2012 for approval by the Congress. Most of the proposed program was unanimously approved. A notable addition from the floor was an expansion into the issues of the LGBTQ community, especially in light of the national fight for same-sex marriage rights in the United States that mobilized tens of thousands in 2008. Major campaigns and concerns approved by the Congress include the global economic crisis, the Visiting Forces Agreement and US militarization and aid to the Philippines, escalating human rights violations in the Philippines in anticipation of the 2010 elections, comprehensive immigration reform in the US that includes legalization for the undocumented, and full equity for Filipino World War II Veterans.
Before closing the Congress, elections were held for the executive committee positions for service from 2009 till 2012. Facilitated by GABRIELA Philippines Secretary-General Emmi de Jesus, the elections yielded the following results: Berna Ellorin of NY Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines as BAYAN USA Chair, Kuusela Hilo of Anakbayan Los Angeles for BAYAN USA Vice-Chair, Rhonda Ramiro of Anakbayan East Bay (Oakland) for BAYAN USA Secretary-General, Jack de Jesus (aka the hip-hop artist Kiwi) as BAYAN USA Deputy Secretary-General, and Jeff Rice of Anakbayan Seattle for a second term as BAYAN USA Finance Officer.
After a picture-taking with the new executive committee, a cultural solidarity night entitled “Sulong Gabriela” took place celebrating the contributions of Filipina women to the Filipino people’s struggle.
Day 3 BAYAN USA members gathered to support and observe the founding assembly of GABRIELA USA, the first overseas chapter of GABRIELA Philippines, the following morning. Emmi DeJesus, GABRIELA Secretary General, gave a stirring keynote address describing the militant 25 history of GABRIELA. During lunch, the newly elected BAYAN USA Executive Committee convened its first meeting.
After lunch, BAYAN USA members held sectoral caucuses for youth and students, human rights advocates, church, scholars, and artists. Outgoing BAYAN USA Vice-Chair Raquel Redondiez was elected Chair of the newly-established GABRIELA USA, along with Valerie Francisco of Filipinas for Right and Empowerment in NYC as Vice Chair of Campaigns, Joanne Alcantara of Pinay sa Seattle as Vice Chair of Membership, Elaine Villasper of Babae-San Francisco as Vice-Chair of Education, and Terrie Cervas of Sisters of Gabriela, Awaken (SiGAW) in Los Angeles as Vice-Chair of Finance.
Upon the conclusion of the GABRIELA USA founding assembly, both BAYAN USA and GABRIELA USA staged a march and rally at MacArthur Park in front of the Labor Center and draped a “Sampayan ng BAYAN” or “People’s Clothesline” spelling the words “JUNK VFA” across the statue of General Douglas MacArthur overlooking the Philippines. A call to challenge and expose the hypocrisy of the Obama administration’s non-departure from Bush’s foreign policy was a highlight from the rally. Rousing speeches punctuated by chants were delivered by leaders of BAYAN USA and GABRIELA USA, with Spanish translation provided by Teresa Gutierrez for the dozens of Spanish-speaking families in the audience.
In conclusion, the 3rd BAYAN USA Congress was able to light an urgent fire for the alliance’s work for the next three years. Under the theme “Strengthen Our Alliance and Intensify Our Political Struggle Against the US-Arroyo Clique and Advance the Rights and Welfare of Filipinos in USA,” the Congress consolidated and showed tremendous expansion and maturation of the alliance since it was founded in January 2005.