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(UPDATE)Pinoys in US opposed restrictions, taxes on relief aid for storm victims

By Jonna Baldres, contributor

Washington, D.C.–On Sunday, October 25, 2009, close to 100 Filipinos gathered in front of the Philippine Embassy to protest Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s directives on restricting and imposing taxes on relief aid for Typhoon Ondoy and other similar disasters. Protesters also condemned GMA for the documented 2,300+ state sanctioned human rights violations in the Philippines under her presidency.

The mobilization was organized by The National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON–US) as a community action component to their annual national conference which carried the theme “Strengthen and Broaden the Rights and Welfare of Filipinos in the US.” The mobilization was followed by a Lobby Day on Monday October 26.

The rally included a march around the perimeter of the Philippine Embassy. Washington DC residents and visitors read placards such as “People First! No Tax on Relief Aid!” and “Stop the Killings! No US Tax Dollars for Military Aid that Supports Violators of Human Rights!” Speakers at the rally spoke on these issues and called on US Filipinos and allies to join NAFCON’s efforts.

President of NAFCON-US, Father Ben Alforque, underscored the historical significance of the October 25th mobilization, “This October 25th mobilization is a significant moment in US Filipino American History and Filipinos organizing our communities here in the US, in that not since the height of the anti-martial law movement in the 1980s, have Filipinos in such large numbers gathered in front of the Philippine Embassy in the nation’s capital to demand justice. Even more of an accomplishment is the strength of our alliance and the unity that members have in relation to the Philippine issues we are addressing.”

People First: No Tax on Relief Aid

There has been a national outpouring of aid and support from US Filipinos for the over 1.8 million victims of Typhoon Ondoy and other similar disasters in the Philippines that are linked to multinational corporations’ illegal mining and logging, deforestation, and land conversion. NAFCON-US has lead relief efforts under our BAYANihan campaign, raising over $15,000 in monetary aid and packing several hundred balikbayan boxes of donated relief goods through our regional offices. But, once again there is corruption in the Arroyo government’s profiting from disaster-prone policies as GMA imposed taxes on relief goods coming from the US and restricted the distribution of aid in the Philippines, causing a backlog.

In this time of urgent need for the vast majority of Filipinos impacted by Ondoy and other natural disasters, NAFCON-US appeals to supporters in the US to join us in our demand that GMA rescind her directives taxing and restricting disaster relief. The lives of the Filipino people should be her first consideration, not government profit.

No US Tax Dollars for Military Aid that Supports Violators of Human Rights

Philippine Attorney Rex Fernandez of Karapatan gave these facts to participants: “To date, there are over 1090+ extrajudicial political killings and assassinations, over 1000+ cases of torture, and over 250+ abductions of political, labor and environmental activists, religious leaders, and journalists that have been perpetrated by the Philippine military under the US backed presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Dozens of reports by international human rights groups such as Amnesty International, UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston’s findings, and even the yearly US State Department Report on Human Rights, and concrete cases including that of US citizen Melissa Roxas and Father Ben Lucero expose this situation.

Attorney Fernandez congratulated NAFCON-US for bringing together so many Filipino organizations to Washington, D.C. to address and take action on this urgent Philippine Issue. He encouraged NAFCON-US members to stand strong in their demand that the US should be ensuring that any military and direct aid contains restricted language and justice for the victims.

Overall those who participated in the NAFCON-US mobilization at the Philippine Embassy were pleased with the outcome. “The solidarity statements from NAFCON member organizations and analysis of the Philippine situation provided by speakers affirm the need for a national alliance of Filipinos that can address and support community organizing and advocacy work in our communities.

In order to strengthen and broaden the struggle for rights and welfare of Filipinos in the US, we must continue efforts to educate and work with our community, our allies, and our government representatives,” ended Mara Ibarra, NAFCON Vice President of Membership and Chapter Building.

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