US activists’ call for Aquino ouster draws mixed responses
SAN FRANCISCO – In a nationwide protest held February 24, ahead of the 29th anniversary of the People Power Revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship, activists demanded the resignation of President Benigno Aquino III.
Bayan-USA, the international chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan or Bayan (New Patriotic Alliance), organized simultaneous rallies in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Seattle.
In San Francisco, dozens of students and community members joined the march from Market and Powell streets to the Philippine Consulate on Sutter.
“We’re asking President Aquino to resign based on his presidency,” Irma Bajar, Gabriela’s vice chair for international relations, told Manila Mail. “It is our duty as Filipino Americans to let the Filipinos know that we want the truth, we want [Aquino] to be accountable. We have seen in the latest incident of Mamasapano that he clearly is still working with the United States. And he’s not thinking about the people. He’s basically a puppet of the U.S. and is not being accountable. He’s been hiding the truth and we’re demanding that he resign.”
The Mamasapano incident refers to an anti-terrorism operation in January that led to the slaughter of over 70 Filipino civilians and policemen.
“A lot of people have seen that his interest is more of the capitalist interest or corporate interest, of pleasing the United States. Specifically on behalf of Gabriela, the women and children are the most affected by his presidency and his corruption. And we’re tired and we demand that he does resign,” Bajar said.
Bernadette Ellorin, chairperson of Bayan-USA, noted in a press handout that there has been increasing U.S. economic domination and militarization in the Philippines since Aquino came to power in 2010.
“Instead of safeguarding his people from America’s reckless war on terror, Aquino has been telling half-truths and lies to attempt to cover up the U.S. hand in this suicide mission. This shows how little Aquino cares about his own people. The civilian death toll at Mamasapano disproves the claims that U.S. military presence can safeguard the Filipino people from harm.”
Bayan believes it was a mistake to send the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force (SAF) unannounced into strongholds of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). There is an existing ceasefire agreement and ongoing peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the MILF.
Philippine media reports indicate that the 12-hour battle in Mamasapano claimed the lives of seven civilians, 44 SAF personnel and 22 members of the MILF and BIFF.
A fact-finding mission also reported claims that a Caucasian male was among the casualties found after the clash. This is an issue because the Philippine Constitution prohibits the participation of foreign troops in military operations on Philippine soil.
Bayan’s goal is to set up a transitional council representing different sectors of the Philippines to replace the Aquino administration.
NEFFCON: Clear failure
Meanwhile, on February 26, a memorial service was organized by the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns and the National Ecumenical Forum for Filipino Concerns–North California Chapter (NEFFCON) at the Holy Child and St. Martin Episcopal Church in Daly City. Both groups are also calling for Aquino’s accountability in the Mamasapano fiasco.
“President Aquino has admitted publicly that he had direct knowledge of and had approved operation Oplan Wolverine/Exodus but has deflected responsibility for its botched execution,” NEFFCON said in a statement.
“President Aquino has clearly failed to exercise leadership and to fulfill his responsibilities as commander-in-chief. The operation was directed and executed by the former director of the PNP, currently under suspension and without any official authority. The target village was located within the agreed boundaries of the autonomous region under control of the MILF. The Bangsamoro peace accords, signed less than a year ago between the government and the MILF formalized this control and set protocols in place to avoid armed encounters. The PNP ignored protocols and proceeded unannounced in what was perceived to be an attack. This was not a failure of the peace accords as much as a failure by those in charge to observe the terms of the accord.”
NEFFCON is also convinced that the operation had more to do with U.S. interests than Philippine sovereignty or the wellbeing and safety of Filipino citizens.
On Facebook, netizens expressed mixed reactions to the protests.
Deli Doronilla, a skincare beautician in Queens, New York, praised Bayan’s effort to educate her kababayan in the U.S.
“Without [Bayan], wala nang ibang mag-lakas loob para sa karapatan nating mga Pilipino laban sa corrupt nating gubyerno [nobody else would have the guts to fight for our rights against a corrupt government].”
But for political leader Charito Benipayo from the East Bay Area of San Francisco, Aquino is so far “the best president we’ve had.”
“Why are you doing this [protests]? Would you rather have someone who is worse, a liar? Please be sensitive and think of our country, not only of your personal sentiments!”
Another commenter, Gavin Hormillosa, finds the protests “very disturbing.” He perceives Bayan as an anti-American political party.
“They are here on American soil protesting against the very country that introduced the Philippines to a democratic-republican form of government. You might say these people are oxymorons, Hormillosa said of the protesters.
“And it disturbs me and many others who are Americans of Filipino descent and who have served this country, sacrificing our lives and families so that this foreign party can talk bad about and enjoy what we have fought for,” Hormillosa added.
“You’re in America! So maybe educate yourself first through reading or ask for clarification. And I do know what I’m talking about because I have lived in both countries and have family and friends who have served in both governments, the U.S. and Philippine governments, during and after Marcos.”