Saturday, November 15, 2008

Body of Lies

PUBLISHED ON November 11, 2008 AT 6:18 PM

By Carlos H. Conde

Ever since the United States sent its troops to the Philippines in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, the Filipino people have been fed the line that the Americans are here either to help the people of Mindanao through humanitarian projects or to help train the Philippine military combat terrorism. The US troops have stayed in the country for so long now that not only have we lost count of exactly how many of them have remained – for all practical purposes, the Americans have set up camps in Mindanao. We know so little else about what they do here except some morsels of information contained in the occasional press release from the US embassy about medical missions and such.

Meanwhile, Filipino officials, particularly those belonging to the political opposition, have either lost interest in knowing exactly what the Americans are up to down south or they, too, had bought the line that all those undetermined number of troops, all those millions of dollars spent since 2002, are so the people of Basilan and Sulu can enjoy potable water or have their cleft lip fixed.

There had been assertions, of course, that there’s more to the presence of the US troops in Mindanao than meets the eye. Focus on the Global South, an international NGO, maintained, for instance, that the Americans have been engaged in an “offensive war” in Mindanao. Leftist groups, naturally, have been calling for the US troops’ pullout, particularly after the Americans suddenly sprouted everywhere — from Basilan, they moved to Sulu then to the Lanao provinces and God knows where else. And the usual line was, of course, they were on humanitarian or medical missions.

Perhaps the first real glimpse of the true nature of the US military’s presence in the south was the mission in 2002 that led to the rescue of Gracia Burnham, the American missionary, who, together with her husband Martin and several others, was kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf in 2001. The group has been linked to al Qaeda.

And today, The New York Times reported that the US military has used, since 2004, a “broad, secret authority to carry out nearly a dozen previously undisclosed attacks against Al Qaeda and other militants in Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere.”

“These military raids typically carried out by Special Operations forces, were authorized by a classified order that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed in the spring of 2004 with the approval of President Bush, the officials said. The secret order gave the military new authority to attack the Qaeda terrorist network anywhere in the world, and a more sweeping mandate to conduct operations in countries not at war with the United States.”

The paper also reported about operations that reminded me of Body of Lies, the movie starring Russell Crowe and Leonardo diCaprio that was shown here recently. “In 2006, for example, a Navy Seal team raided a suspected militants’ compound in the Bajaur region of Pakistan, according to a former top official of the Central Intelligence Agency. Officials watched the entire mission — captured by the video camera of a remotely piloted Predator aircraft — in real time in the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorist Center at the agency’s headquarters in Virginia 7,000 miles away.”

The New York Times report tells us not to believe whatever the US and the Philippine governments have been telling us since this “war on terror” began. Although the Philippines was not mentioned in the report, it is not difficult to imagine that we are one of the “other countries” where the US had launched these secret attacks.

If anything, this should give politicians a reason to ascertain exactly what the US is doing in Mindanao. As this report indicates, a strong argument can be made that this American presence may have violated Philippine laws.

If the US military can have its way in countries that are less friendly to Washington – Pakistan, for instance – how much more in the Philippines where Americans are given far greater access, whose people bestow on them a tremendous amount of trust that they probably will not find elsewhere?

Carlos H. Conde is a journalist based in Manila.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Women migrants debunk empowerment myth, vow to continue struggle for rights

Jobs available to women are “mere extension of stereotype women roles as homemakers and as sex objects.” These are, in essence, gender-oppressive roles made to appear as formal work placing women in situations open to abuse and exploitation.


A Filipina in dire need lured by promises of gainful employment in Singapore ending up being forced into sexual slavery. A Thai domestic helper in Hong Kong who is paid meager wages. Women from poor countries sold as brides to Taiwanese men. Highly-educated Mongolian women forced to take on jobs not related to their profession. All of them are bound twice—as migrants and as women.

Women migrants who attended the International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR) this October shared their predicaments, debunking claims that migration has led to the empowerment of women.

The so-called feminization of migration, the United Nations and the International Labor Organization (ILO) claim, has the potential in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment.

But women migrants think otherwise.

Eni Lestari, chairperson of the International Migrants Alliance (IMA) said that the current trade of migration is not voluntary but forced migration. She said migrant workers are like commodities owned by the sending governments to be exported to other governments, in exchange for remittances and as a way to reduce unemployment.

Lestari said that even before migration, political and economic structures propagate a patriarchal culture. Society views women as slaves who are subordinated by men, she said.
Lestari, an Indonesian who works as a domestic helper in Hong Kong, said that most women migrants surrender their power to their employer or recruitment agency. Women are made docile and are vulnerable to all forms of violations.


Samantha (not her real name), 40, is the breadwinner of a family of 13.

Like many Filipinos looking for a decent job, Samantha and her niece Clarissa (not her real name) applied for a job in Singapore.

Before leaving, she stayed at the residence of the recruiter, known to her only as Amanda, in Caloocan City. She, her niece and the other talents practiced moves for a Malay dance.

During the orientation, Samantha and the others were instructed to say they were just on a holiday when questioned by immigration authorities in Singapore. They were even given “show money” for the authorities. She was also told that they would not encounter any difficulty with immigration officers in the Philippines because everything had been settled.

On July 14, she left for Singapore. What appeared to be a harmless job turned out to be a nightmare. Upon their arrival, Amanda confiscated all of their cellular phones. They were brought to bar, the main door of which is always locked. Worse, they were forced to have sex with customers of the bar.

“We cannot just sit; we are obliged to sell sex. We have no choice,” Samantha said.

They were told that they have to raise 5,200 Singaporean dollars for their placement fee.

On July 15, Samantha had a Japanese customer who paid 100 Singaporean dollars for three hours of “service.”

“I was crying, it was my first time to have sex with someone I don’t love,” said Samantha, crying.

The next day, Samantha said she learned that Amanda’s real name is Cindy Domingo.

They are prohibited from saying anything about their situation. When talking to their relatives over the phone, Amanda or Cindy would listen and would always warn them not to cry.

Samantha said Amanda would hurl invectives at them. “She even listens to our conversations with customers… She does not keep a list of the money we give her,” said Samantha.

When her visa was about to expire, Amanda took her to Malaysia where stayed for three to four hours so she could renew her visa.

In August, a British customer “hired” Samantha for eight days. She was paid 8,000 Singaporean dollars. “All the money went to Amanda,” related Samantha.

She was determined to escape so she pretended to be nice to Amanda. Just before she left, she witnessed how Amanda slapped another woman victim. “She pulled her hair, banged her head on the wall… I wanted to help her, she was so skinny and helpless but I could not do anything,” said Samantha.

On Sept. 7, she flew back to Manila with the hope of getting back at Amanda and of helping out the other victims of sex trafficking.

Outright lie

In its position paper, women’s group GABRIELA said, “That migration leads to development is an outright lie. That migration of Filipinas can lead to women’s empowerment is a ludicrous notion…The truth is more and more women are being sold as domestic helpers, as entertainers, as caregivers and as mail-order brides in exchange for their dollar remittances.”

“The stark truth, as shown by the Philippine experience, is that women migrant workers find themselves in situations that are very disempowering,” the group maintained.

GABRIELA said jobs available to women are “mere extension of stereotype women roles as homemakers and as sex objects.”

“These are, in essence, gender-oppressive roles made to appear as formal work that place women in situations open to abuse and exploitation,” it said.

Only hope

GABRIELA said the organization and collective actions of migrants and their families are their only hope for protection and better conditions.

“Just as globalization created a borderless exploitation of workers, it has fortunately also paved the way for a borderless organization of oppressed peoples as exemplified by the growing and developing organization of migrants worldwide,” the group said.

It added, “Women migrants must actively take part in the growing resistance against neoliberal policies by building women migrants’ organizations, strengthening their alliances with anti-globalization women’s groups and participating actively in people’s organizations in their own countries or their host countries.” (