Thursday, December 22, 2005

Time space warp in Hongkong

Even though every nook was Wi-Fi ready and one only had to go to the public library (or any public establishment with computers, for that matter) for free internet access, I wasn't able to allot blogging time in Hongkong at all. I had to run to and from the Hongkong University, where the ILPS-Youth (International League of Peoples' Struggle) and ASA (Asian Student Association) Youth and Student Conference was taking place; and Victoria Park, where the Philippine delegation held most of its activities for the People's Action Week.

Our days started really early, and ended up usually by 2-3am after our daily assessments and consultations. Between attending fora and conferences, and preparing and taking part in the monumental street marches, nothing much could be done but maximize the little idle time to rest, connect with international youth delegates, find cheap but satisfactory restos and hop to the Jusco 10-dollar shop in search for thingamajigs for possible gimmicks and prop materials.

Kaya pahabol. Here's my blow-by-blow take of young radicals' short but stout stint in the recently concluded Hongkong anti-WTO protests.

December 12 Arrival
Amazing how two places merely 1 hour and 45 minutes away from each other can be worlds apart.

At the Hongkong airport, glaring differences from the Philippines were already all too painfully apparent. We had to take a 10-minute walk from the arrival dock and board an indoor train just to get to the immigration area. Electronic information desks were scattered all over the place, providing assistance to tourists and visitors in various languages.

Smartly-dressed attendants were waiting for us at the immigration area with the sole purpose of ushering us into the designated waiting lines. Would there have been a piano or some jazzy lounge music playing one would mistake the wall-to-wall carpeted immigration area for a posh hotel.

Queued in line at the immigration, one thing I noticed was that desk officers seemed to hold Filipinas and other Asian women under interrogation longer than the Caucasian women waiting for their turns. 'How long are you staying?', 'Why are you coming back?', 'Where will you be staying?' were asked in none too respectful manners to the two Filipinas in front of me. One of them had with her bags of bibingka and was desperately trying to carry them in one hand while she frantically searched her bag for papers and documents the officer demanded of her. Good thing my brother RJ (who went as a delegate for KARATULA Kabataang Artista para sa Tunay na Kalayaan) was queued before me so when it got to my turn the officer just asked me my name and stamped my passport without any questions. (our reason being to 'visit relatives.' We had to resort to such tactics in light of previous detentions of some of our fellow Filipino activists and leaders days before..)

We were all happy to see the familiar faces of NDFP Negotiating Panel Chair Louie Jalandoni, NDFP panelist Coni Ledesma and NDFP Human Rights Monitoring Committee Chair Fidel Agcaoili at the airport. Other Filipino kasamas were also there to fetch us up. Warm welcomes easily made the terribly cold Hongkong weather (another detail we're not used to) tolerable that night.

December 13 opening protest rally against the WTO M16
Was ecstatic to see my dear friend, former CEGP president and present Asian Students' Association Regional Secretariat Rey Asis at the assembly in Victoria Park. It was also there that we got to meet the international delegates for the Youth Conference for the first time:

Sook is a journalist graduate from Malaysia. She is a member of a youth organization there and she sells books for a living. She also writes children's books and has already visited the Philippines. She is one of the most helpful and diligent delegates in the conference.

Mona is a student from India. She is also one of the most articulate delegates in the conference. She is cute and petite but minces no anti-imperialist words in the sessions. She promised to give me her fabulous Indian earrings through Alvin of NUSP (who stayed behind with her for the ASA General Conference).

Aliyah from ILPS-Youth in Turkey is crazy and witty and a true-blue comrade. She kept a journal for the conference on which she never misses to write nightly. She constantly shot pictures and took videos of us too. She told me she also started a 'mean diary' where she documented anecdotes of our bloopers and other trivial stuff. I told her to post everything on a website instead. I think I'll miss her most of all.

Anju is from Mauritius and she knows Viveka Babajee (remember her?). She was our very own Miss Congeniality in the conference. She easily clicked with the Filipino delegates because of the Viveka factor (haha!). She is Indian-looking but speaks perfect French. She already knows what 'pasabog' stands for so she now speaks a little Tagalog as well.

Lao Fong belongs to the Hongkong University Student Union and was all too kind and accommodating. He plays bass in a band and LOVES jazz music. Too bad he wasn't able to participate much in the sessions because he was too busy playing host to us.

Azad is also from Turkey and made us all worried when he wandered off one night to take shots of the Korean protesters. He was officially missing for more than three hours before Aliyah and RJ decided to look for him. He eventually showed up from nowhere and said that 'he just went out for coffee.' Yeah right. :-)

Bhakta from Nepal is one of my group mates in the documentation committee. I was intimidated by him at first because he was a man of few words. But we were later be seen dancing to the Indonesians singing Tagalog march songs at the Migrante cultural night.

Damica is a doctor from Sri Lanka. He looks a lot like Lenin. He is sharp and always straight to the point.

Dave is actually an Australian based in Thailand. He asks a lot of questions and fools around a lot. I always got distracted whenever I talked to him because he had some sort of a rubber thingie up his nose. My guess is that it's supposed to help him breathe kasi masyadong matangos ang ilong niya.

Kai Loon, Madav, Ipang, Carlo and Kawai have all been to the Philippines for exposure trips.

So many other new friends and comrades but I always have had trouble recalling names. Nonetheless, I felt proud to be marching and protesting with them in the opening rally. We were chanting 'Junk WTO' in our respective languages but international solidarity knows no language barriers.

It was a short march from Victoria Park towards the loading docks (in front of the Hongkong Convention Center where the WTO MC6 was actually taking place). It was a lot different from our marches here because 1.) it was deathly cold, 2.) there was ZERO pollution, 3.) the police were actually ESCORTING AND HELPING us, and 4.) EACH ONE of us had to carry flags and streamers all throughout the march. When we got to the rally site, the Hongkong Peoples' Alliance (HKPA) prepared a short program in which representatives of all organizations who joined the march could deliver their respective speeches.

We were all excited to hear our very own Mong Palatino speak with other youth delegates in the program. But just when he got up the stage, media men were already scrambling to get to the docks' edge. That was when the South Koreans jumped in the water. I saw them myself, my estimate was around 50-60 Koreans bobbing in the water in their orange life vests. More followed suit and I lost count.

After that, nothing much could be expected of the program. The media and protesters' attentions were pretty much focused on what the Koreans' next plan of action was. Some were visibly irked because of the 'un-coordinated' interruption. I personally held no grudge against them/what they did, albeit futile (they were immediately surrounded by police boats. But they weren't arrested, the police were actually there to secure and escort them in their midday swim!), had tremendous political impact. Many protesters and lookers-on were actually cheering them on.

We had to pull out though immediately after that because the Koreans who didn't jump into sea were starting to set fire to their huge effigy (I think it was a coffin but I'm not sure) and was slowly pushing the burning thing towards the police barricade guarding the Convention Center gates. We didn't get to witness them being pepper-sprayed and beaten by the police. We were on our way back to Victoria Park by then.

December 14 ILPS Forum on Trade and War
After opening the People's Action Week with a bang (literally so, for the Koreans), our next great feat was to survive Hongkong's 13-degree cold for the ILPS Forum on Trade and War held outdoors. Smack in the middle of the roofless, windy Victoria Park.

We opened the forum by launching the ILPS hymn. My brother, Gly of ILPS-Youth Philippines and myself were all part of the ILPS Philippines Chorale. The coldest environment I had had to sing in was somewhere in the Cordilleras but it wasn't nearly as cold there as it got in Victoria Park that morning. It was a dread to sing really because our throats were parched and it hurt just to smile because our lips were terribly chapped. Imagine having to sing with mouths open wide (for better voice projection)!

Among the main speakers in the forum were Dr. Jane Kelsey from New Zealand ('Historical Overview of Imperialist Globalization'); Antonio Tujan Jr.of the Asia Pacific Research Network or APRN ('Imperialist Collaboration and Competition in Exploiting Weaker Economies through the WTO'); Dr. Haluk Gerger from Turkey ('Globalization and the New World Order'), Dr. Carol Pagaduan-Araullo, Bayan chairperson and vice-president for external affairs of the ILPS ('The Military Face of Globalization'); Manuel Perez Iturbe, Charge d'Affaires of the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in the Philippines ('US Agression and Provocation: The case of Venezuela'); and Luis Jalandoni, ('Advancing the People's Struggle Against Imperialism'). The opening address was by Prof. Jose Maria Sison, chairperson of the ILPS, and the speech was read by Coni Ledesma.

Our ever-enterprising fellow Filipino youth delegates attempted to erect booths for our CDS, pins and other stuff for sale at the makeshift entrance. They were, however, immediately chastised by our kapwa Pinoys lest the police saw them and they had to pay a handsome fine for their 'illegal stall'. It was one of the many no-no's we had to comply with in Hongkong. First was that we couldn't just throw our cigarette butts anywhere; 1,500 HK dollars (Php 10,500) fine for that; and 5,000 HK dollars (Php 35,000) if caught smoking in anti-smoking areas. Good thing the 'elders' were there or else no food allowance for the rest of us, hehe.

That night, while waiting for the bus to fetch us up from Victoria Park back to the HKU, the Koreans shared with us the kimchi and rice meals they had for dinner. Kimchi became a nightly treat for Filipinos in Victoria Park after that.

December 15 International Youth Forum on WTO and Globalization
Hongkong University held me in complete awe. Imagine the most prosperous and modern university here in the Philippines, Ateneo or UA&P perhaps, and it's still nothing compared to the HKU.

From the outside, HKU maintained an old-fashioned façade with its brick-red structures and age-old bronze monuments. Inside was a different thing altogether. They had elevators, escalators, electronic touch-activated student assistance kiosks and campus TVs scattered in almost every floor. I'm not so sure if they had a dorm though, the university was so vast that the little time we spent there wasn't enough for us to explore its entirety.

The HKU Student Union had a whole building to themselves (katumbas ito ng Vinzons Hall Student Center sa UP pero malayong-malayo in terms of laki at availability at pagka-high-tech ng facilities). I was like a kid basking in goodies on my first visit to the HKU-Student Union Office. They had at least a dozen computers, five laser printers, a photocopying and enlarging machine, separate rooms for conferences, hanging out (I assumed, when I saw the super-comfy couch, TV and the stacks of DVDs in one room), and for doing administrative work. Good thing HKU students spoke perfect English because I had to solicit their help in encoding statements and press releases in the Chinese-charactered keyboards. One glitch, I suppose, but negligible considering everything else.

Our first activity for the International Youth and Student Conference on WTO and Globalization ' a forum ' was held in one of the 'classrooms' inside HKU. I say 'classroom' because it actually looked like an undersized cinema, complete with LCD equipment, a screen that appears or vanishes at a touch of a pad, a built-in Wi-Fi ready computer in front and touch-activated mechanisms for light and sound systems. I could tell that our fellow delegates from other third world countries were also hugely impressed. Mona wasn't able to help herself and blurted out that Hongkong was the most prosperous place she has been to.

The classroom was jam packed, a quick count of around 300 participated. The audience consisted of delegates from the four host organizations : ILPS-Youth, ASA, World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) and International Movement of Catholic Students Asia Pacific (IMCS-AP). Among the speakers were: On Education: Ted Murphy, National Tertiary Education Union (Australia); On Employment: Lito Ustares, May First Movement (Philippines); and On Culture: Joel Garduce, Concerned Artists of the Philippines.

As expected, questions and reactions in the open forum were mostly addressed to Ted (he didn't want to be called 'sir'). He raised really good points and presented concrete case studies and analyses of the effects and implications of the GATS on education. He said he wasn't used to preparing papers for his talks but gave me a website where all his input and more can be accessed.

Next in the agenda was the sharing of country reports. We were grouped into tens (the Filipino delegation had to be distributed to two different groups as there were more than 20 of us) with delegates from different countries. My group consisted of youth and students from Burma, Sri Lanka and Taiwan. We had to present our country reports on education, employment and culture based on the guidelines prepared by the IYSC Secretariat.

What struck me most was the situation in Burma. Burma has a highly-militarized dictatorship government. The youth and student movement had to travel to Thailand or other nearby countries just so they could conduct their meetings. Any gathering of more than 10 people is bound to be dispersed by the police. Locals are required to carry their national IDs all the time or face arrest and detention. It's amazing how youth and student activists manage to sustain their movement in Burma considering their prevailing situation. But they get by and is in fact one of the leading youth and student movements across Asia. I realized then that some countries are still worse off than the Philippines in terms of campus and political repression. We are lucky in the sense that we still have space, however tight, to protest human rights violations and suppression. We are lucky in the sense that we successfully overthrew a similar dictatorship situation because of EDSA People Power 1.

Suppression and political killings in the Philippines are almost as rampant as those in Sri Lanka, where a civil war is going on in the country's city areas. But the Philippines still leads the pack as the most dangerous place for journalists and civil libertarians across Asia.

As in the Philippines, youths from these countries decry the privatization, commercialization and colonial structure of education in favor of profit for superpowers like the US and EU. Tertiary education is mainly profit-oriented and commodified at the expense of poor students who have no means to achieve decent schooling because of high cost impositions. This condition is mainly attributed to governments' continuous subservience to WTO dictates on education and their preparation for the imminent implementation of the GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) on education.

Taiwan's situation, on the other hand, is different in that it is a first world country. Like Hongkong, it is still reveling in the tactical gains the WTO provides but education is highly-commercialized and commodified nonetheless. Students are also forced to drop out of college because of high tuition costs.

Synthesis reports of the groups all reflected the WTO's onerous effects on education, employment and culture. Everyone was in high spirits with the extent youth and student movements worldwide have reached in terms of fighting for democratic rights and against imperialist plunder.

Bottomline: GATS in education poses an even graver threat to youth and students in countries where education systems are commodified and mainly profit-oriented. Read more on the The WTO and the crisis of the Philippine educational system

Heard no news about the Koreans that day. I think some of them attended the Peasant Tribunal in Victoria Park.

December 16
Mong, Sinag and I went to Victoria Park in the morning to join our fellow Filipinos in a flag dance/march towards the loading docks. Our other Filipino youth companions stayed behind for the continuation of the conference. My arms still hurt from carrying the Anakbayan flag all through out the march and program but it was well worth it. It was the first all-Filipino activity for the People's Action Week. The kasamas from different sectors were in high morale, chanting in Tagalog, singing, marching and basically wowing the bustling Hongkong crowd.

I saw one of our photographer friends, Bullit Marquez, covering the event though he was assigned to cover the talks inside the Convention Center. Hindi siguro siya nakatiis, he had to be where the real action was.

My congratulatons to Ina and Tonyo for the fabulous anti-imperialist masks (10 HK dollars each from Jusco), undoubtedly the highlight of the march. Galing! Photos of the masks (and the die-in protest at the loading docks) may be viewed on-line (try yahoo news).

Afterwards, Tonyo accompanied me to Jusco to look for any possible thing that could be transformed into gimmicks for our Youth March the next day. After contemplating between graduation toga caps (found none) and fake plastic medals, I finally opted for three inflatable beach balls and 100 pieces of balloons. Tonyo, meanwhile, went ga-ga over a transparent umbrella which he claims to have been searching heaven and earth for. He bought two and was later on reluctant to go back to Victoria Park with me lest he would end up explaining to people why in hell he bought TWO quaint umbrellas in Hongkong, hehe.

In HKU, they conducted workshops on GATS, TRIPS, NAMA, AoA, Environment and Indigenous Peoples. The workshops were through by the time I got back but they told me that everything went well. A little skirmish apparently occurred due to a misunderstanding with one of the invited resource persons for Environment (FOCUS on the Global South. But let?s leave that for another entry..) but all sessions were generally informative and well-delivered.

More importantly, discussions were appropriately raised to a sharper anti-imperialist perspective. This consensus among delegates brought about the formation of the SAY NO to WTO (Student and Youth Network Opposed to the WTO), the first ever anti-WTO international youth alliance in Asia, if not worldwide.

Preparations for the Youth March were well under way when I arrived. I excitedly produced my Jusco goodies and we all went to work until way past midnight.

The late night local news featured the Koreans in another admirable feat. They stormed and picketed the Office of the US Consulate General, a monstrous steel structure located along one of the major highways. We all watched in awe as they spray-painted the building's façade with "Junk WTO" and "Down with Bush" in bold red letters. While this was transpiring, some elder Koreans proceeded to shave their heads while meditating. Their grand finale: after spray-painting and shaving, they attacked the big brass signage and managed to strip off some of the letters from the wall.

We were clapping our hands off in that distant conference room in HKU. The Koreans once again managed to send tingling adrenalin sensations through us. We vowed to show resolute militancy in the next day's Youth March.

December 17 International Youth March

Assembly was at 12nn at the Victoria Park. We immediately formed a circle in the middle of the park and slammed our three beach balls around (one ball each to stand for WTO, IMF and WB). We channeled our anger and energies towards those balls so much that one got hopelessly deflated even BEFORE we marched! The balloons were not such a good idea after all. What I got for my 10 dollars' worth were 100 balloons that burst at the slightest contact. But not to worry, we improvised with face-paints and soon enough young by-standers were lining up to get their faces painted AND join us in the march. We had a foto-ops field day at the assembly in Victoria Park that day.

We had to wait for our fellow youth from WSCF and IMCS who were still holding a mass nearby. When they arrived, the Korean peasants were with them, complete with MILLIONS of yellow balloons! Buti na lang pumutok na agad ang mga pitiful-looking balloons namin kundi mukha lang silang kawawa sa super yellow balloons ng mga Koreano, hehe.

We then proceeded to march towards the loading docks while singing some songs we taught the international delegates. The mood was festive, we were celebrating the impending collapse of the WTO. We were vibrant and youthful in protest. We were happy to be marching and proud of our solidarity. We were fighting for our right to education, employment and livelihood. The G8 would have cowered had they seen us marching towards them that day.

Short program at the loading docks then we had to go straight back to Victoria Park where a bus was waiting to take us back 'home' (Aliyah: 'See, I said 'home' instead of 'the university'. Aww shucks. :-)).

On our march back, Rey got a call from the HKPA. They heard about the success of the Youth March, would we consider doing an about face and march back again to the loading docks with them? We were more than happy to oblige but were stopped in our tracks when word came that the Koreans once again had a confrontation with the police. They were water-cannoned this time (the reason why Azad suddenly 'disappeared.').

Migrante International held a cultural program at the park in commemoration of the International Migrants' Day later that night. We got to perform our songs in the Youth March and were waiting for our bus to fetch us up when news came that the Koreans, and even some members of the media, were cordoned off by the police at the loading docks. Some 900 of them were awaiting arrest. Hundreds were hurt in the earlier confrontation with the police and there were even unconfirmed reports of a Korean peasant who died of internal hemorrhage.

The Philippine delegation (with our international friends) decided to launch a support rally for the Koreans. We marched towards the loading docks to bring them food and water and some dry clothing. It was around 10pm and everything in Hongkong just STOPPED. The MTR (MRT to Pinoys), bus routes, commercial establishments and some major streets were closed. Hongkong people could be seen taking pictures in the middle of the roads and on the islands (according to Rey because it was the first time in a decade that people could walk freely on non-pedestrian lanes. The last time was also because of a huge rally).

As for the support rally, we reached the loading docks and were all surprised when we had to leave immediately. It was really anti-climactic, considering that hoards of Hongkong people were flocking towards us and joining the rally. Some of them also brought food and water; everyone was sympathetic towards the Koreans. But it was really a judgment call for the overall command (kasamas in Hongkong) and we trusted them completely. Later on, they explained that those guarding the Koreans were not the regular police who escorted us earlier but anti-riot and anti-terror police. They were all heavily-armed and in fighting stance. When we arrived, they mistook us for reinforcements for the Koreans and were therefore ready to attack. So our biggest thanks to our kasamas in Hongkong for ensuring our safety above all.

December 18 closing rally

Before we even realized it, we were back where we started ? a big, big rally against the WTO in solidarity with other peoples? movements worldwide.

We braved the early morning cold in Victoria Park for the last time that day to mark the closing (and unproductive) WTO MC6. We were again set to march towards the loading docks but some said that the program in Victoria Park that morning was enough to cap our whole week?s protest in Hongkong. Very noticeable was the Hongkong people?s reactions. Gone was the mostly amazed but otherwise apathetic response of bystanders when we first marched in the streets in the opening rally. By then, people were flocking towards our route to await our march. Shouts of ?Junk WTO!? and ?Da Dou Sai Mao!? came not only from the rallyists but from the Hongkong public as well.

For my part, I felt immensely honored and overwhelmed to be one amongst thousands of thousands who were there passionately protesting the WTO as a main instrument for imperialist war and plunder. Despite the terrible cold, long nights and ?lost in translation? episodes, I will always remember the rallies in Hongkong as one of the most monumental international protests in recent history.

The challenge now is to continue promoting awareness to our countrymen and fellow youth on the ill effects of privatization, deregulation and liberalization mandated by the WTO under the guise of ?globalization?. For as long as the WTO exists, underdeveloped countries like the Philippines will always be threatened and trampled upon by imperialist dictates and exploitation.

WTO continues its imperialist dominance over us to this day but its prospects are bleak with the resurgence of the growing anti-imperialist front and peoples? movements worldwide. For this reason alone, the world is ours, the future is ours. ###


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