Streetbuzz Interview

April 18, 2008

Arman Perez: Secretary General - Cebu, Regional Coordinator - Central Visayas: BAYAN MUNA party list.
Lives in Cebu, Philippines.

A STREETBUZZ INTERVIEW

Arman Perez

STREETBUZZ: Arman, how old are you and where were you born?

ARMAN: I'm 36 years old and I was born in Manila.

STREETBUZZ: How about your childhood?

ARMAN: In my family we are eight siblings, I’m the eldest from my mom's second husband. My step dad, is an OFW (overseas foreign worker), he barely came home every two to four years. Most OFWs then went to Middle East, not yet Europe or America.
When I was first year high school, I saw many homeless & children begging in the street, I have so many questions came up in my mind, why these people are homeless?

My mother was actively involved in community activities; I was then eight years old. Especially she was involved in the cleanup drives, beautification, & peace & order activities. She was a Marcos loyalist. I was exposed by her passion to serve the community, helping others in her own little way.

I had so many questions, why so many poor, why children begging, why people are demonstrating against government? So when Ninoy died (Ninoy Aquino, assasinated upon his return to the Philippines in 1983), my step sister's husband took me to join the march. I saw why these people are calling for ouster of the dictator Marcos. But by then I still have so many questions about their cause. I’m a new kid in their block.

So after that I decided to ask more questions of the organizers of the labour unions. Talk to youth organizers, but they never convinced me or answered all my questions. I can’t comprehend all the terms they’re using, I’m only 13 yrs old.

In my third year high school, in Manila, some of my classmates, they can't access use of the library facilities. The teachers collected funds from our parents through the Parent-Teacher Association for upgrade of the facilities, but it never happened. So I took up the cudgel to ask the teachers and school officials. Why the new students can’t use the library etc.? it was not yet ready. They got a catwalk and some computers for the teachers, but nothing for the students. So I said something fishy is going on with our parent fund.

So we had this fact finding investigation on our own, we gathered documents, and pertinent papers, we found out hundreds of thousands of pesos were not used. We were questioning where was this fund? Only two computers were acquired. This was first issue I became active, about corruption in our school.  I organized a demonstration of 500 students. The principal and staff had an emergency meeting to answer questions. The school officials were calling us a mob. Blaming us, especially me, for creating such a huge demonstration against the school officials.

STREETBUZZ: What's the reaction of your mom at that time? She's proud of you, or...?

ARMAN: At first she’s anxious, afraid, but later on I convinced them it’s for all the students. So then they said I should stand up on the campaign, my mom and the teachers. The school officials threatened me, not to graduate, but my schoolmates, they try to have my clearance signed by my teachers. So I said fine, I will stay [another year] and organize students next year. Finally they signed so I could graduate, they didn't want me around again next year.

My step-sister's husband introduced me to the student organizer; he told me that he was just an organizer of some group. But when I did some reserach, I realized he was a main organizer of League of Filipino Students [a well-known and militant national student organization.] So I told him, no need to hide your identity, better if you will really identify yourself and what you are doing. So we had a discussion about capitalism, fascism, imperialism, etc. but I still had my questions, why should Filipinos get involved? And you know, at that time, my vision after high school was to be a priest or military.

So before graduating high school I had to get an exam for a scholarship [for college.] I was very surprised the results, I passed the exam for the degree which I want enter, political science.

So I attended Ateneo de Manila University in Manila. During college I used to immerse myself on the weekends going to factories, etc. but I was never involved in an [political] organization.

I graduated from Ateneo de Manila University in 1992. Then I flew in to Cebu, transferred and looked for a job. My first job was with Plan Philippines, for fostering children. It is based in Belgium or/ Germany, but it was only a few months. Then after that, I was also involved in the Barefoot Media Initiative, which was a project that trained NGOs to develop their journalistic skills and listening. After that for two years, our project was gone, so I applied for Sunstar Cebu. I became newsroom assistant to the editorial chief. Then I requested to deploy different departments, the art department, layout, edited design of the paper. That's the first time I developed my computer graphic skills. At same time I was contributing some feature articles.

In 1996 I organized the first independent media union in Cebu, the SunStar employees union.  But unfortunately we lost the certification. election. It was the first time I got involved in organizing outside of Manila. Yes, I was able to keep my work at SunStar but they exiled me to the Fuente office. But after work I went back to to main building, talked to my co-employees about the union, etc. We even filed cases against management before the Department of Labour. They are getting so much profit, why they can't give us some support in light of soaring costs etc. So the [SunStar] board granted some privileges, sack of rice, allowance, to employees. So it was a gain for us.

After that during the 1998 Asian Financial crisis, we tried to set up an independent broadsheet here. That's my last involvement in mainstream media. But after awhile it failed.

In 1990 some of my friends asked me about organizing a party here, so we organized Bayan Muna here in Cebu. I took some task during the anti-Erap campaign, together with Bayan, so they asked me about setting up a Bayan Muna [chapter.] I was only part of the secretariat, but then in 2003 I was chosen Secretary-General. After our regional coordinator Mario Auxilio was abducted in 2005, I assumed the task of regional coordinator. So I am Secretary-General and also Central Visayas regional coordinator. So until now it remains same position. 

Arman Perez at ASEAN Summit

Arman at ASEAN Summit protest in Cebu, January 2007.

ISSUES

STREETBUZZ: It seems the biggest issue affecting the Philippines right now is the rice crisis. There is a shortfall, the country is now the biggest importer of rice in Asia, the price of rice for consumers is rising very fast, and many poor Filipinos are in danger of going hungry. What's your opinion?

ARMAN: It is very unfortunate for the Philippines. Philippines was supposedly the largest exporter of rice before World War II and the 1970s. Now it's the number one importer in Asia. Why was that? First, continuing land conversions of agricultural lands. Plus the entry of Philippines to GATT [General Agreement on Tariffs] and WTO [World Trade Organization] in 1995, during Ramos' time. The Philippines was forced to export rice, 600,000 MT [million tons]. And also during Ramos' time, the land conversions, etc. for golf courses, subdivisions, agro-industrial use for export, and cash crop conversions. That why every year the local production is continuing to decrease, and every year the requested amount to import is increased. The president has already approved P45 Billion and CARP [Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program] but farmers are never able to benefit. If CARP was really implemented, we should not have shortfall of rice. That’s why Bayan Muna giving government recommendations:

1. First NFA [National Food Authority] get more budget to get palay [newly harvested, unpolished rice] from farmers.

2. Increase buying rice from local farmers [instead of buying abroad] so they will get more boost to increase productions and not import dependent. Of course the long term solution is to stop the land use conversions and cash crop conversions. And to stop the WTO Agreement on Agriculture. By 2009 or 2010 [according to] the plan, all imports will be zero tariffs [which will be disastrous for many Philippine farmers.]

3. Re-alignment of budget from debt servicing and defense budget will go to agricultural budget.

STREETBUZZ: Next issue: What about the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines?

ARMAN: The government said the UN is praising the government. In the first place the truth is, the numbers are not yet decreasing, 900+ killings still not resolved or solved. Points to military, even military official so into killings to silence the government. Because still these cases are not yet resolved.

STREETBUZZ: But the numbers are better so far in 2008; even Karapatan admits that the numbers of killings and disappearances have decreased.

ARMAN: Yes that’s one of the achievements of Bayan Muna, and the international campaign [to stop the killings.] But the fact is these cases are not yet closed. Of course they will lie low for awhile. Because GMA is eyeing to amend the constitution. We don't know what will happen if they amend the constitution. Just to continue herself in power. But we cannot rely on these senators to block it, a majority of senators and representatives are puppets. Look at JDV [Jose de Venecia Jr., an erstwhile ally of President Arroyo, was ousted from his position as Speaker of the House for having backed his own son in the Senate hearings which implicated the President in the NBN scandal.]  They can convene a convention, just to resolve. And merging of LAKAS and Kampi [the two major Administration parties.] We in Bayan Muna are very apprehensive: the members of the House, can really argue that Congress & the Senate should be convened as one body, to amend the constitution. But the Senate is arguing it should be a bilateral convention, not convened as one [the House is generally a rubber stamp body of the President, whereas the Senate is controlled by the opposition.]

STREETBUZZ: What about your own safety? Activists, especially leftists, in the Philippines, do their work at great personal risk.

ARMAN: About my own safety here in Cebu City, me and [Mayor] Tomas Osmeña had a conversation, that what happened to Atty. Surigao during his fist administration won't happen again [prominent human rights lawyer Alfonso Surigao was shot by unidentified gunmen in 1988.]

But of course we are still trying to be more careful, especially what happened in April 2007, a Bayan Muna coordinator and Kabataan party leader were abducted in Cebu City before the May 2007 elections. I called Mayor Osmeña about the abduction; he called up CentCom (Armed Forces of the Philippines Central Command) commander, to surface these two people, and after 48 hours they were surfaced by the military. Because they are using warrantless arrest against our people, these judges said it is invalid, it is only a preliminary investigation of the case, not an arrest. The military turned them over to the police. So they released our coordinators, because they have no legal basis [to hold them.] They told me, the police commander, that they’re just doing their job to present [the detainee] for proper processing. The mayor and two Congressmen and all the councilors condemned the abduction, of not  doing any type of arrest in the future without proper papers, and [the military] should not do any covert operation.

STREETBUZZ: In this way, Cebu is really unique, right? I think there are not many places in the Philippines where activists are safe from being killed or disappeared?

ARMAN: Yes unique here in Cebu, it is a bailiwick of the Osmeñas before, but right now only Cebu City, that’s why Osmeña is very influential with the business community, military, police, etc. I talk to Mayor Osmeña frequently about different issues. Some times we agree or sometimes we disagree. Tommy was really saddened by what happened at Malacañang Sugbo 2005, it was televised internationally [a demonstration at the Presidential Palace in Cebu City was met with police water cannons.] So now he really wants to make agreement so we can co-exist, we meet halfway or compromise. I talked to him about killings, if you really want peace and order, just stop these killings [the Vigilante killings in Cebu.] So the killings have gone down. But when I go outside the metropolitan Cebu area, I always bring my colleagues to accompany me for safety. And I also call political officials there when I go to let them know that I will be there at this time so they will be aware.

STREETBUZZ: Going beyond Cebu, what can you say about Bayan Muna and the prospects for revolutionary change in the Philippines?

ARMAN: Bayan Muna is doing great in the parliamentary arena by sponsoring legislation based on people’s issues and ideas. They [The Administration and the military] really persecuted our leadership.

STREETBUZZ: But besides the killings and disappearances, they cheated Bayan Muna out of seats in the May 2007 elections right?

ARMAN: Yes, because Comelec [Commission on Elections] based [the allotment of seats in Congress] on the Partylist law, two percent of the vote for each seat, maximum of three seats for each group. But Comelec wants to marginalize partylist groups, [so] they implemented the First Party rule [only the party with the highest number of votes will be given more than one seat.] Only the Alagad party [an Administration-backed partylist group] was the only that received three seats.

STREETBUZZ: What about other areas of struggle besides the legislative arena?

ARMAN: Influencing other local leaders and international, Bayan Muna has gaining grounds, because since 2001, Bayan Muna already rooted in the basic masses and other areas, we expanded tremendously. Not just legislation, but by maximizing the pork barrel [PDAF: Priority Development Assistance Fund.] By prioritizing projects for the people, of irrigation, housing, etc. the implementing agencies did get access to the funds so it was used. But since the second impeachment attempt in 2006 [against President Arroyo], Bayan Muna didn't get its allotments. So our projects like Vicente Sotto (public hospital for the poor) and DPW [Department of Public Works] water systems and DSWD [Department of Social Welfare and Development] indigent funds. So we are talking to our beneficiaries to pressure for release of these funds.

If the Arroyo government continues to ignore the call of the people for genuine social reforms, the struggle for national emancipation will continue. But up to now, because of recent developments rice shortage etc., that is all the reason to call the attention of this over to address the problems and root causes of the these problems. Like agricultural reform, national industrialization, and social concerns like housing and urban poor sectors. If the government will continue to ignore all of this, I don't think she [Arroyo] will continue her power up to 2010 [end of term.] Also if the military will not be alarmed by these developments, and the other sectors, will not join the people's battle cry for genuine change, the struggle will continue. Then the armed struggle will continue.

There is a bright future for the Philippine revolution to achieve its purpose, but I don't know, [if it's] before or after this administratio. I don't know in our lifetimes we may not see the fruits of the struggle of the people, but all of this in due time. We will achieve the truly genuine just and peaceful society based on social justice. And I think in other countries I think that is also the battle cry of people's struggles to escape the clutches of the capitalist imperialists.

STREETBUZZ: What about the global situation, what is sometimes called the global crisis of capitalism? And that is now being compounded by global warming and the global environmental crisis.

ARMAN: A matter of time, the liberation movements in third world countries and developed countries, the people's organizations against imperialism will continue, there’s no such thing as developed capitalist system, but to go down. Because the people are trying economically and politically, empowerment, if the policies of the US will continue, intervention in the affairs of other nations, and the economic depression, the US may have the social unrest they never experienced in their history. And especially the foreign policy of outsourcing jobs, giving them to the cheap laborers outside of America: more and more American citizens are unemployed. Americans don’t have any enemies, but the American government is creating their enemies for them around the world.

STREETBUZZ: Closing words of wisdom?

ARMAN: “All that's required for evil to triumph in the world, is for good people to do nothing."

That's one of my favorite quotes, and my personal principle. And also the other one:

"If we do not speak out and stand up against the oppressors and exploiters, who and when? This is the only legacy we can leave behind to next generation."

Arman Perez at Partylist victory party after May 2007 elections.

Partylist victory party after May 2007 elections.

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A STREETBUZZ INTERVIEW