MANDULUYONG (MindaNews/22 August) — Yesterday, the nation marked the 27th death anniversary of former Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Sr. His assassination at the tarmac of the Manila International Airport (MIA), allegedly by Rolando Galman acting alone, sparked the fires of outrage that finally drove strongman Ferdinand Marcos Sr. from the seat of power he had held for over 20 years.
I remember the tumult of those days and the hundreds of thousands who filled the streets, a seething procession of angry Filipinos following the body of Senator Ninoy. My family lived in Maryland at the time, as my husband and I were working at the World Bank. No Filipino, at home or abroad, was untouched by the martyrdom of Ninoy.
Ninoy’s widow, Corazon C. Aquino, lovingly called “Tita Cory” by her followers, became President in 1986 after Marcos was forced out of the Palace. She brought back democratic processes including a peaceful, democratic transition from her administration to Fidel V. Ramos, the winner of the 1992 presidential elections. Eighteen years hence, Ninoy and Cory’s only son, Benigno “Noynoy” III was elected President last May with the biggest margin in Philippine history.
Outsiders must be wondering at the paucity of credible Filipino leaders that, 27 years after, we still rely on Ninoy’s family. I do not know if Ninoy, were he still alive, would still consider us worth dying for. How could he, when his wife and his son have had to sacrifice their own lives to shepherd Pinoys back to democracy like so many wayward sheep? And sheep we were, led willy-nilly by wolves in sheep’s clothing. What have the Filipinos accomplished in the last 27 years?
Ninoy said, “The Filipino is worth dying for.”
If we are to be worthy of Ninoy’s martyrdom, we need to develop a spine of duty and accountability. We need to clean out our termite-infested house of bloated, destructive termites of corruption and manipulation. We need to do drastic repairs to make the house habitable, like making election laws really work and getting rid of voter harassment and vote buying. We need to empower ourselves, to make government protect the marginalized.
Consider our OFWs who are heralded as the “Bagong Bayani” or New Heroes but are oftentimes more like “Bagong Alipin” or New Slaves, as Toots Ople would say. In 27 years, millions of Filipinos have left their homeland to find jobs abroad to support their families. Over 70 percent of our OFWs are unskilled, a testimony to the poor quality of education in this country. Thus, most Filipinos looking for jobs abroad are unqualified, easy prey to illegal recruitment and trafficking.
Human trafficking, considered as the modern form of slavery, essentially violates basic human rights. Documented stories of victims reveal their pain and suffering caused by traffickers. To address this serious problem, RA 9208 (Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003) was enacted. Nevertheless, trafficking of Filipino women, youth, and children continues. According to the Visayan Forum, around 600,000 to 800,000 victims of trafficking in the country come from impoverished areas in the Visayas and Mindanao.
At a dialogue on trafficking between civil society and government last month, CSOs clamored for the help of the newly installed Aquino government to curb human trafficking in the country. In its 2010 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, the US Department of State has again classified the Philippines under the Tier 2 Watch list, a group of countries that have not improved on their human trafficking problems. Current figures reveal that over 900 arrests have been made but only 380 cases made it to court. Of these, only 18 trafficking cases have been resolved so far.
Should we slide to Tier 3 (and join Somalia), the Philippines stands to lose $250 million in financial aid, a big percentage of which supports peace in conflicted-affected and poverty-stricken Mindanao, the major source of trafficked victims.
The CSO-government dialogue organized by the Blas Ople Center, the Visayan Forum, the Association of Child Caring Agencies of the Philippines and the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy called on the government to move and protect the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos—mostly women, youth and children—from the desperate situation they fall into as trafficked victims.
One of the legislators who attended the dialogue, world boxing champion now congressman Manny Paquiao, will be delivering a privilege speech on Monday. We hope he will address the problems identified that prevent line agencies from aggressively pursuing traffickers and the government officials complicit in trafficking. Like allocating an adequate budget for the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) and agencies involved in prosecuting traffickers and protecting the victims. Like improving the judicial process by adding more salas to hear trafficking cases and increase the number of prosecutions.
The other legislators who committed to spur action against trafficking include Senators Pia Cayetano, Manny Villar, Loren Legarda, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr, Teofisto “TG” Guingona, and Congresswoman Isabelle “Beng” Climaco.
In 27 years, the ordinary Filipino has not advanced much farther but is actually sliding down a mountain of muck into poverty and, as they fall prey to traffickers, landing in involuntary servitude. Will Ninoy’s heir, now President Noynoy, stop the slide? Abangan . . . (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Amina Rasul is lead convenor of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy. This column piece first appeared in The Manila Times).