LOS ANGELES, California – It was supposed to be a healthy dialogue between indigenous peoples (IP) leaders from Mindanao and Filipino Americans (Fil-Ams) but turned momentarily awry, causing disappointment among Filipinos in attendance at the Philippine Consulate General office here on July 15.
Despite a clear reminder from Philippine Deputy Consul General Ambrosio Brian Enciso III for everyone at the town hall meeting to exercise civility, kindness, and openness, several LA-based Fil-Am militants made a scene even before all eight IP leaders could finish their narratives of abuses, deception and atrocities committed against them by the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).
Enciso, in his opening remarks, cited the importance of the meeting because, for the first time in recent history, Philippine IPs of various tribes have come to America as a team to make their voices heard and speak on their own behalf, rather than have other groups with their own interests, speak for them and put words into their mouths.
Just a few minutes later, five alleged members of militant Bayan USA, one after another, stood up from separate seats across the room — some loudly reading scripts of anti-government chants from their mobile phones, while others shouted on the top of their voices.
In stark contrast, the eight IP leaders silently watched Consulate personnel send more or less 10 militants, one by one, outside the room.
Macky Fortu, a member of the Filipino-American Community of Los Angeles (FACLA), can’t hide his disappointment because he and his companions canceled some of their day’s schedule just to attend the meeting.
“It is unfair to us that the meeting was disrupted. It turned out well though in the end,” said Fortu, adding that the meeting was very important for humanitarian organizations like them because the money that we send to the Philippines might end up in wrong hands. There is nothing wrong with the IPs revelations.”
He said the IPs are people just like other Filipinos and that their interests are only the right to live and the right to self-determination, among others.
“Sila ay mga mahihirap na tao na kailangan nila suportahan natin, kailangan nila ang simpatiya natin. So, itong mga taong ito as far as I learned dito sa meeting na ito, sila ‘yung victims of atrocities sa Pilipinas (They are underprivileged that need our support and sympathy. They are victims of atrocities in the Philippines),” he added.
It turned out, Fortu said, that the militants are the ones painting a picture of the IPs as the villains.
“My goodness! They are wrong! They are suppressing the information here in this meeting. Why do they have to do that?” he added.
He said he and the rest of Fil-Ams at the town hall meeting are neutral and would want to hear the IPs stories.
“Their message is very straightforward, very informative, very compelling. I don’t think we can dispute their arguments because if we do, it is like questioning their experiences. That’s nonsense and absurd,” he added.
Despite the sincere message of the IP leaders, who are on speaking engagements across the US, Fortu said some people want to shoot the messenger, which is morally wrong.
Vow to educate
“We will help educate other people, other Fil-Ams that there are some Filipinos who are raising funds raising for the benefit actually of other groups. And that’s what they said, the CPP-NPA, so we have to be careful with the money that we send to the Philippines because again, it might end up in the wrong hands,” said Fortu, who is Rotary Club past president and has been sending financial assistance for projects in the Philippines.
He also called on other organizations to be discerning and careful in sending out donations to organizations who may be lying about where the collections go.
Help, not fight
Meanwhile, 22-year-old John Carlo Arcenas is saddened by the tension caused by the militants’ disruption of the meeting.
“We should help one another, not fight each other like the other guys (militants) coming here. What’s the reason why they are fighting other Filipinos. We’re all Filipinos we should help each other,” said Arcenas, who has been living in the US for nine years.
He added that there should be peace, positivity, and love among Filipinos who are all brothers and sisters. (PNA)