Keynote Speech

The  Model United Nations Conference on Poverty
Under the UN Global Classrooms Program
United Nations Association of Minnesota
O’Shaughnessy Auditorium
University of St. Thomas
Saint Paul, Minnesota
1 May  2013

By Cheryl L. Daytec, Philippines
Fulbright-Humphrey Fellow, Law and Human Rights 2012-2013
I am very honored to have been invited to  speak today  in a very important gathering as what you are having today. I was young once, and I have sat in occasions  like this. I have listened to older people’s thoughts and learned from them. And so I am very grateful for this opportunity to be able to share my thoughts with you, young people, who are the most important resource the world needs for it to become a better place. The future belongs to you, and having a gathering to talk about one of the most serious concerns we are facing in this country and in the globe means you are claiming your rightful place in this world.

Statistics show that currently,  80% of the world population live on less than $10 a day. Almost half or more than 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day. More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than $1.25 a day.  One billion  children around the globe  are living in poverty. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty.  There are 925  million people worldwide who do not have enough food to eat. On a daily basis, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes which translates to one child for every five seconds.  The World Food Programme says, that “(t)he poor are hungry and their hunger traps them in poverty.” Hunger is the leading killer in the world, with more people dying from it than from HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.

Let us look at the picture in this country. Government statistics claim that in  2011, the poverty rate in the United States  was 15.1% and  9.5 million families were in poverty. Twenty-two percent or  16.1 million  children under the age of 18 were in poverty. In my country, the Philippines, the figures are even worse.

Does this mean there is scarcity of  food? No. This country is the land of milk and honey. This is the  world's wealthiest nation.  There is sufficient food for everyone in this country and even  in the whole world. But people will go hungry if they do not have the money to buy food or the means to produce them. People will go hungry if only a few in this country and in the world have  access to the abundant economic resources. The gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen.  In my country the Philippines, 75% of the country’s wealth is controlled by only 40 families. The gap between developed and undeveloped countries continues to widen as well.

Now, is the issue of poverty your business? It is, regardless of your skin color, religion, or belief.  Every injustice, every oppression, or every violence suffered by an individual or by a  community is your business. And, you should always mind your business. Poverty is an injustice which  affects or will affect many of you directly. You will soon go to college. Then the reality of poverty will hit you when you have to deal with student loans that you are unable to pay while university tuition and other school fees go up. Some of you will have to work to be able to obtain a decent education. You do not want this for your children. What happens today will affect the state of things in the future. And the future belongs to you.

The United Nations acknowledges your very important role  in building communities and nations.  Thus, last year, the theme for International Youth Day was “Building A Better World, Partnering with Youth.” UN  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “to unleash the power of young people, we need to partner with them because they have unprecedented potential to advance the wellbeing of the entire human family. We need to listen and engage with young people to establish strong mechanism for youth participation because the time has come to integrate youth voices more meaningfully into decision-making processes at all levels.” Ban-Ki-Moon further urged “governments, the private sector, civil society and academia to open doors for young people and strengthen partnerships with youth-led organisations.” He said that “(y)ouths can determine whether this era moves towards greater perils or more positive changes.''

Like Mr Ban-Ki Moon, I believe that you are a very vital force in building this country and the world for the better. You represent the older generation’s dreams and aspirations for the future. One day, one or more of you might become the  United Nations Secretary General, or this country’s president, Senator, or Congressman, or a leader of a government agency or a private institution.  And so I believe that all governments must invest in the young to prepare you for your roles as future leaders of the world.  This is what the UN Global Classrooms is doing- investing in you because it believes in you.  Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, you have the right to form your own views and to express them. You therefore have the right to participate in public affairs. Sadly  though, only the United States and Somalia did not ratify this international treaty. Even so, this country is a democracy. This means it should make space for everyone to be heard  in decision-making. Be catalysts of change. If things are bad today, it is partly  because those generations ahead of you did not do much to stop evil such as  abject poverty from happening. Yesterday, they were the future and today is the future that they are harvesting for themselves and their children including you. You would not want the poverty in this world for the future and  the coming generation that you will produce. By coming here today, you affirmed your belief that you have an obligation to future generations to make sure they will have a life better than the one we know now. And so you are eager to act. Plato said a long time ago that “
the penalty good people pay for indifference to public affairs, is to be ruled by evil people.”  So do not be indifferent. Choose action over apathy or you lose your moral right to complain against the evil that you tolerate.

It is important never to forget that you belong to a community and that what happens to that community affects you. Each one of you  is your brothers and sisters’ keepers. Do not think that you do not know enough to be part of the political conversations and actions. You know your needs that the older ones may not know. Many say  that youth is a state of inexperience and immaturity. You may not have the experience but you have the perspective. It is the youth’s perspective that many countries’ governments lack. And that is one reason why they fail in solving poverty issues. My own daughter has been a member of my city’s local legislative council since she was 16 and each day, she would amaze me with her ideas for a better world. She would think of things I never imagined, but that is because she knows the needs of the young and has their perspective. So do not underestimate yourselves.  With your energy and your idealism,  you  can help create a world of equality, a world where people have equal access to economic resources and opportunities and  political power. But you have to break free from the restrictions  around you that hamper your participation. To do this, you must first believe that you have a role in ending poverty. I refer to  a present role, not a role in the future when you graduate from school, or when you take over the reins of government  and other institutions.

Believe that you can change the world. The 2011 Egyptian revolution which ousted a corrupt dictator who ruled that North African country for a long time was led by young people. You do not have to lead revolutions. Just do not be bystanders while evil happens, while poverty claims every member of your community.  Do not just fold your arms  and watch. Do not let apathy kill your sense of community.  Do not think that you cannot make a difference. You can. Have the courage to stand and be counted. Do something. It does not have to be grand.  There are bite-size things that you can do to fight poverty.

It is OK party. It is OK to scream when the likes of Justin Bieber pass by. It is OK to be interested to know who they are dating or who they broke up with. But find out too what your leaders  just did or did not do about poverty. Investigate and understand social issues. Listen when President Obama opens his mouth. Initiate discussions among yourselves and in the classrooms.

Find your voice and assert it. Assert your place in the political space. Your ideas matter. Do not be disappointed by those people who will silence you down or ignore what you say. Do not let the older people suppress your voice. Tell them in a very nice way that they have already messed up enough. Remember, it is your and  posterity's interests that are at stake because you and they  will harvest tomorrow the fruits of decisions made today. Thus, you are  stakeholders whose voice must be heard. Write your local government officials. Write your Congresspersons and Senators. Write governments. Use the internet at which your generation is more adept than mine. Tell them what you think. Tell them that wars lead to poverty and more hunger. Tell them that   public money should be used  for food and for  employment opportunities  and NOT  for firearms. Only those who manufacture guns and arms make money from wars; everybody else suffers. Promising young lives are prematurely ended by wars. Tell your officials and the rest of the world  that peace is not just about the absence of wars. Tell them that peace is more about having food  for everyone in every country.    Attend public forums and consultations. Join organizations that work on peace and ending poverty or establish your own. Organize  forums and symposiums and invite your elders – your parents, teachers, and government officials -to listen to what you think the future which is yours should be.

When you are old enough, use your right to vote wisely. Marshall McLuhan once said, “American youth attributes much more importance to arriving at driver's license age than at voting age.” Let no one say this about you.  Support only those candidates who have the interest of the disadvantaged and marginalized at heart.

Use your Facebook accounts not only to tell your friends what you had for breakfast, but also to share information that can contribute to your friend’s political maturity and awareness of social issues around them. Help one another in building your social consciousness.

Volunteer some of your time to organizations that are helping the poor. You can go help pack food for the poor children of developing countries. You can go into fund-raising to feed a few children.

Do not waste food. Do not waste water. Remember that the food you waste could be a meal for a family  in Africa or Asia. Remember that the water you waste can quench the thirst of so many children who have no access to safe drinking water in other parts of the globe.

Study hard so that you will be freed from poverty and so that you can help free others from it. Education is for freedom, for liberation. You are in school not only so that you will be able to stand on your own in the future, but also so that you can help in the advancement of communities. When you are done with your education, use it as an educated person for others. Do not use it to contribute to  maintaining  a decadent status quo or to sustaining systems of inequality and injustice. Use it to fight poverty.  Recognize and embrace your role  in the lives of those who have less in life in this country and in the world and use your education for social transformation. Do not forget that people can contribute to strengthening structures of inequality and perpetuating the systems that keep so many people in poverty by closing their eyes, by being silent when they must speak out, by folding their arms, and by being bystanders.

 Do not ever let go of  your moral compass.  When it is your time to take over the reins of government and of society, you will  not repeat the mistakes of my generation and the generations ahead. The future generation will thank you.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus  has a dream and it is a dream we all share: He wants poverty to be put in museums one day. How I wish we can find poverty in museums only these days but I guess my generation and those ahead of us  did not do enough to make this happen, or my generation contributed to making poverty happen. I apologize for my generation. But I ask you to work harder where we failed. Be the ones to bring your grandchildren to museums for them to understand how poverty was like, as Professor Yunus says. Always remember that if you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem. Be  a part of the solution.

Thank you very much and good day.
UNA-MN Logo 2012
"I only wish that the UN would read some of the resolutions students come up with at these conferences..."

Anja, Global Classrooms intern

Read the rest of our intern interview below! 

In this issue


Host a Conference at Your School! 

Are you a new school to MUN? Would you like your students to learn more about MUN before attending a State Conference? Contact us if you would be interested in hosting a school conference for the 2013-2014 school year! 
Washington Tech School Conference award winners, May 15
Conference Topics
The overarching topic for this year's
Global Classrooms
Model UN Conferences is 
Poverty. The committees are divided as follows:

General Assembly
Security Council
World Health Organization
Please click on the committee topics listed above to see this year's background guides.
GC logo
Global Classrooms Newsletter
January-May 2013

The year is flying by for Global Classrooms! Here is a summary of our activity since January:
  • A Professional Development session featuring three local professionals speaking on our overarching topic of Poverty,
  • A training held by Robyn, one of our fantastic interns (featured below), for college student who wished to learn more about running a Model UN conference, 
  • Three state Model UN conferences - middle school, high school, and Spanish language,
  • Two successful school conferences at Capitol Hill Magnet School and Washington Tech Magnet School in St. Paul, 
  • Over 50 classroom training sessions at eight different schools in the metro area!
Intern Robyn in full Model UN regalia at the dais training 
Our staff was also in attendance at the United Nations Association of Minnesota's Annual Meeting in January, where the Global Classrooms Norma Rowe Teaching Award was given to Martha Johnson of Highland Park Middle School in St.
Martha Johnson (L) and UNA-MN co-chair Randi Markusen at the UNA-MN Annual Meeting 
Paul. Congratulations Martha and we thank her for all of her hard work with our program!

Below, you can find out more on our Professional Development session, our state conferences, and meet two of our graduating interns who have been invaluable to us during their time with our program. Read on to learn more, and if you are interested in working with us in the next year, be sure to look at our internship descriptions on the sidebar! As always, feel free to contact us for information or questions.  

Fatema Kermalli Walji and April DeJarlais 
United Nations Association of Minnesota 
Global Classrooms
Program Staff
Spring 2013 State Model UN Conferences

Spring is our busiest season of the year, with students nearing the end of their school year and ready to exercise their country knowledge at Model UN Conferences! Our conferences this season have been: 
  • High School State Conference, April 9th, Hamline University, with 244 participants from ten schools,
  • Middle School State Conference, May 1st, University of St. Thomas, with 371 participants from six schools, and
  • Spanish language State Conference, May 10th, University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management, with 188 participants from four schools.

Spanish Language State Conference at the University of Minnesota, May
A huge thank you to our guest speakers for the conferences: Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, University of Minnesota Humphrey fellow Cheryl Daytec, and University of Minnesota professor Luis Ramos-Garcia.
Professional Development Session Notes: Teaching Global Poverty to Students 

Our February professional development session was centered around this year's conference topic of global poverty, with professionals in the field providing methods for teaching the topic to students. The discussion panel featured:
  • UNA-MN board member and former UN ambassador Robert Flaten as moderator,
  • Macalester College political science professor Paul Dosh,
  • Hamline University professor Hossein Akhavi-Pour, and  
  • law enforcement professional from the state of Madhya Pradesh, India, Priyanka Mishra.   
Below is a summary of each speaker's key points:

Paul Dosh: The Urbanization of Poverty
Professor Dosh, a Latin American scholar and activist, stressed the teaching of social issues through media, art, and engagement. In his classes at Macalester, he sometimes requires students to research a political figure, and then role play the figure to the class with a speech and question session. This type of activity ties in directly with the Model UN lessons of role-playing, speech-making, and research. Professor Dosh also delivered an impressive spoken word piece on poverty in Latin America.

Building Dignity: Professor Dosh, with three partners, founded the organization Building Dignity, which is based out of Lima, Peru. The organization aims to "identify, engage, and support key leaders using modest resources to spur action" within communities in the  

International Photography & Research Project: A documentary photography site by James Lerager. Professor Dosh recommended that students view photos on the site and record reactions. 

Priyanka Mishra: Poverty and Maternal Health
The state of Madhya Pradesh has the highest child mortality rate in India, where Ms. Mishra works on the police force in the town of Bhopal. Her presentation detailed the daily life of India's impoverished population, including valuable vocabulary for students, such as:

Social exclusion: Schools are often far away for rural families, and the threat of violence often makes it dangerous for girls to walk to school alone - therefore, many girls are unable to receive education.
Structural violence: A social structure that causes poverty or misery; i.e. the ratio of children to doctors in India is 90,000 to one, and the out of pocket expense for many hospital visits is 70% of the total cost.

Hossein Akhavi-Pour: Poverty and the Conflict in Afghanistan
Professor Akhavi-Pour emphasized the teaching of the political economy of poverty - why are people poor, and why do they stay mired in poverty? Both he and Ms. Mishra talk about impoverished men and women's inability to fight against unexpected events, and the need to live one day at a time since there are no resources to plan for the future. 

Meet Our 2012-13 Interns:interns
Robyn Sellman and Anja Crowder

Global Classrooms interns serve as in-class trainers for our curriculum, and are a valuable resource to teachers and students. Please contact us if you are interested in requesting a
Robyn (L) and Anja
trainer (free of charge) for your class or Model UN club.

Robyn and Anja
are returning interns to Global Classrooms this year, and their experience and knowledge of the program has been invaluable. Robyn is a senior at Hamline University, and Anja a senior at Macalester College.

Why did you decide to join the Global Classrooms team? 
Robyn: I was very interested in working with students--I have always wanted to teach and be in the classroom. After I became more involved with Global Classrooms, I realized how much I love Model UN and how great of an experience it is for kids.  
Anja: To me, the Global Classrooms program really epitomizes what it means to be a global citizen. It's bringing the global to the local. I really believe that teaching young students about the importance of globalization, communication, development and peace can have a great impact on how the next generation deals with issues of global importance. 

What do you like the most about the Model UN?   

Robyn: My favorite thing about Model UN has to be the way it encourages you to think critically and creatively about international issues, but also requires you to compromise. Taking on a position that isn't necessarily your own, while trying to find common ground with others (who may well represent your own position) really causes you to change your perspective. Model UN, much like the United Nations itself, is all about collaboration to reach a common goal. 

Anja: I love that students come together in a space of academic rigor, as equal individuals who are passionate about solving the world's problems. To me, a Model UN conference is like a 3-day think tank for international policy proposals. I only wish that the UN would read some of the resolutions students come up with at these conferences, because they are innovative and provide depth to current issues being debated in the General Assembly.    

What has been your best experience as a GC intern?   

Robyn: Global Classrooms really has the ability to empower kids to take charge of their own learning. My best experience as an intern was watching a young man develop his own curiosity about the world; he went from being one of the more disruptive and disengaged students in the classroom to an award-winner at the Global Classrooms conference at his school. It is moments like this when I realize how much I love working with Global Classrooms.

Anja: Chairing the Security Council Committee discussing the famine in the Horn of Africa last spring was my most fulfilling experience with Global Classrooms. The students were full of creative solutions that had merit for implementation. These students are not bogged down by international politics, and really collaborate to come up with amazing
resolutions. It's inspirational for me to listen to their ideas about the field that I eventually want to work in.  

If you could choose one place to live, where would that be?

Robyn: If I could live and work anywhere in the world, I think I would choose the Swiss countryside. First, it's absolutely beautiful and has great chocolate. More important to me, though, is the strong education system and educational philosophy of the Swiss--encouraging every child to reach their potential, whatever it may be. 

Anja: I am a German citizen, speak French, and love Italian food. Working in UN headquarters in Geneva would be my ideal job. All of these paths come together for me in Switzerland, so that is certainly my ideal location.

What is your dream job?   

 Anja: I don't really have a dream job because I'm still trying to figure my life out, but basically I would love to have a meaningful job where I could contribute to social justice here or somewhere in the world!

Robyn: That's always a tough one! My dream job is teaching: I would do it anywhere, teach anyone, and teach anything. It's amazing how much you can learn about yourself, the world, and others by working with children. They are the future and its as important as ever to teach them how to be citizens in tomorrow's world.   


Independence Day Address
Twin Cities, Minnesota
8 June 2013

2012-2013 Fulbright/ Humphrey Fellow
University of Minnesota

I am very, very honored to have been invited  to be the  Guest Speaker of Minnesota’s biggest Filipino-American community as you celebrate Independence Day.  I had spoken  in various forums with diverse audiences during the past one year that I was a Fulbright-Humphrey Fellow in the United States. I do not know why it is in this particular gathering in this beautiful park  that I feel very nervous. Maybe it is because an Independence Day Address must   reawaken or reaffirm one’s commitment to the ideals that inspired the Philippine Revolution. This is, unarguably,  a tall order. Understand then why  I am overwhelmed.

But yesterday, I asked a friend who had been a United States resident for the last 20 years, “If you were to listen here in the United States to a speaker  who is based in the Philippines, what would you like this person to talk about?” I was half-expecting him to say that he would like me to update him on the love life of Vic Sotto, or summarize the latest Aga Muhlach movie, or discuss Vice-Ganda’s popularity or loss of popularity after mocking Jessica Soho’s (over)weight to trivialize rape, or if Nora Aunor already looks like a grandmother.  But his response was  a far cry. He said  he would like to know developments  in the country of his birth. He also said he would like to know how he could contribute to the improvement of conditions back home. I was blown away. This person cares for the country some people might claim he abandoned like a hot potato, or more realistically, a hot ‘camote’?  It is not that I never believed that my friend was capable of possessing social conscience. It is just that to me he represented the Filipino born and educated in the Philippines but chose to move to the United States in search for greener pastures. He represented you- you who would have to listen to my ramblings this morning as your ticket to  lunch.    It had been more than two months since I accepted  Madam Lita Malicsi’s invitation to give the keynote address for today’s celebration. And it had been more than two months that I agonized over what to say to you. But I had an   epiphany after consulting my friend. I hope he was right, otherwise, I will pillory him if you throw tomatoes at me later. I sort of  prepared for the eventuality of tomatoes thrown at me by wearing this tomato-colored suit.

It is very auspicious that we are celebrating the  115th year of Philippine independence the same year that the United States is celebrating the 150th year of the end of the civil war. In different parts of the world, there are other Filipinos like you who are commemorating or who will commemorate Independence Day. It only means you have not forgotten home. It is perhaps incontrovertible that you can take the Filipino out of the Philippines, but you can never take the Philippines out of the Filipino. Jose Rizal,  one of our  national heroes, the so-called greatest person ever produced by the Malayan race,    said that those who  do not care  to look back to where they came from can never get to where they want to go. Which means you who are here today will get to where you want to go for not forgetting your roots.

Allow me therefore to  bring us back further home - back to where we came from, back to the Pearl of the Orient Seas.

In the last years, the Philippines has had gains in the political front. It became stable when measured against the political situation under the Arroyo regime. The conflict in Mindanao de-escalated and there seems to be bright prospects that the insurgency of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will at last  become history. There were some accomplishments in the campaign against corruption, at least on the rhetorical front. The controversial Reproductive Health  Bill was finally, finally passed into law after years of debate that seemed to lead nowhere. Investor confidence surged upwards. The public trust rating of the President remains high although it has been declining.

Here is one more good news: There has been a steady increase in the gross domestic product. You probably know that the Philippines right now is jubilant over its very recent  economic gain. In the first quarter of this year,  it registered a phenomenal  economic growth of 7.8%  which is actually the highest among the major East and Southeast Asian countries including China. Indeed this is spectacular. Even the Philippine government was surprised- shocked perhaps is a better word-  because its target of 5 to 6% was surpassed. This also impressed  major international financial institutions like the Asian Development Bank  and the International Monetary Fund  which projected 6%. Although the growth this last quarter is the highest, there has actually been a positive economic trend under the Aquino administration. And so things look rosy in the Philippines.

But what does this growth really mean to the masses of Filipinos? What is hidden under economic statistics are dismal facts. Domestic consumption and spending including predictably vote-buying during the last elections fueled the unprecedented  rise of the “Sick Man of Asia”  to the rising tiger  of Asia. (I think this is a stupefying evolution. Imagine a man becoming a tiger! And I thought human beings were first lower animal forms before becoming human.) Also,  your remittances- every dollar you sent to your families and extended families back home- contributed much to this growth. About 10 million overseas Filipino workers remitted  $24 billion to the Philippines last year. This represented 10% of the country's economic output.

Which means that the growth- and I mean the steady growth of the economy under Pres Aquino’s dispensation- did not really trickle down to the country’s poor. Jobs have not been created and so the unemployment rate remains high. In fact, even the Asian Development Bank reports that  almost half of the workers in the Pearl of the Orient Seas are unpaid family workers and the self-employed. The rate of poverty is still high. One-third of the population is surviving on  $2 a day.

On the human rights front, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances are still happening. Majority of the targets are indigenous rights defenders and environmentalists who are resisting large-scale mining corporations. We are all probably aware that mining is responsible for many of the environmental disasters in the country- from flashfloods, soil erosions,  and the sinking or subsidence of some communities, to the biological death of bodies of water and pollution of farmlands. These have resulted in losses to life and property, loss of livelihood, and displacement especially of indigenous peoples. What is very dangerous is that in many mining communities, the military is serving as the private security force of mining corporations. What is more dangerous is that the government allowed mining corporations to convert the CAFGU as their private  militias to quell community opposition to destructive mining.  This is very disappointing since Aquino, while on the campaign trail in 2010,  promised to dismantle private armies which were strengthened during the Arroyo regime. Instead of dismantling private armies, he gave them a legal status to serve the mining corporations. 

Which bring us back to what we are celebrating today: the 115th year of our independence. Andres Bonifacio and the other revolutionaries paid with their blood to free the Filipinos from the bondage of oppression. They paid with their lives to release their country women and men  from the shackles of hunger. They paid with their lives so that their fellow men and women would live with dignity, and not be forced into labor or be treated as inferior beings in their own homeland. They paid with their lives for our independence.

What is independence? How does it translate into a value for every Filipino? The simple definition  of independence is that it is the condition of being free from hunger or  want and fear from fear. In a country where 75% of the economy is controlled by only 40 families, how can people be freed from want? How can people be freed from hunger if only a few control the land? If people are forced into laziness (or indolence) simply because of the absence of economic opportunities, how can people have freedom of choice?

The reason some or even more of our fellow Filipinos- some of them our country’s best and brightest like you who are here- left the country and moved to other  countries is because  the Philippines did not have space or while there was space, it was not big enough for them to grow,  to live happy and peaceful lives secure that they  would always have something to eat or have roof above their and their family’s heads. As someone  said,  “nothing testifies better to deep poverty than the export of slaves or the persistent exodus of job-hungry migrants.” Our OFWs   did not abandon our country. You did not ship out of our country. Like the migratory birds, they- and you-   escaped from harsh conditions. And just  like migratory birds, we will always go back.

Independence Day will have meaning to the majority of our people back home if economic  gains will give them freedom from want, the freedom of choice. When 75% of the economy is controlled by only 40 families, when economic gains that make the Philippines the rising tiger of Asia do not change the lives of more than half of the Philippine population, when  thousands upon thousands of children beg on streets, when many families do not have adequate to eat, when Manila is the “Gate to Hell,” when the gap between the likes of the very wealthy Henry Sy and Lucio Tan   widen every single day, our heroes who spilled their blood for the so-called independence we are marking today will continue to turn in their graves. But when economic gains mean jobs for the poor and  food on their tables, children inside classrooms from Monday to Friday instead of on the streets, then Independence Day will be significant for everyone.

The struggle for independence did not end on June 12, 1898. I believe that independence is  not just a state or condition, but it is also a  process of making sure that the death and sacrifices of our heroes would not be senseless. Bonifacio and his friends imperiled and even lost their lives because they wanted hunger to end, because they wanted distributive justice for  every Juana, Paula, Francisca, Pedro, Procopio, and Jose. Their deaths, their sacrifices will be trivialized if we allow  the Philippines to become a country that is  paradise for profiteers but hell for the vast majority of citizens. And every Filipino has a role to play to ensure that our heroes did not shed their blood in vain.  We who are here have a role to play. Every hunger, every problem suffered by an individual or by a  community is our business, especially if that community is the Filipino nation itself.  And, we should always mind our business. We may be here now, but the Philippines is still our home. A lot of you will probably go back to the country of your birth when you will have retired. I am sure you will not rest easy  spending your hard-earned retirement dollars in the midst of a sea of children begging for alms. You will not be happy living in comfort  when you know that many people are struggling to make both ends meet, are living under bridges, or are scavenging garbage bins for food.

And so let us prepare for happy retirement. Aside from your remittances which have been keeping our economy afloat and sheltered the Philippines  from the recession that hit this country badly, we can do much more.  How we conceive that role is up to us. But let me appeal that you use your voice to raise the issues of the vulnerable, the weak, the indigenous, the poor, in the Philippines. Here, you can speak and bring to the attention of our government the evils of mining to life, property, and the environment, without fear of the paramilitary groups and the  State security forces killing or abducting  you or members of your family. The Philippine Study Group of Minnesota headed by Meg Layese has been doing that. I joined them and the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines in lobbying efforts to ask the United States to stop sending military aid to the Philippines which the Armed Forces only uses to strengthen paramilitary groups used by mining companies. We traveled to Washington and lobbied with Senators and Congressmen, as well as officials of the United States State Department. We got positive actions and assurances of support. We are working on convincing the United States Congress to convene the Lantos Commission to look into the human rights issues in the Philippines. To my knowledge, no one from PSGM  ever got killed or kidnapped for activism, for lending its strong voice to express the issues of the poor, the weak, the marginalized, and indigenous back home.  In the Philippines, I personally know people – my friends and co-workers- who lost their lives or who disappeared without shadows because they dared give a voice to the issues of the weak and marginalized. I have had security issues myself. And last year, Congress passed a law criminalizing online libel. In its wake people were arrested for Facebook posts. The only reason the government was not able to arrest more people is because the constitutionality of that law was questioned before the Supreme Court. The case is currently  pending.

And so, while I am here, let me enjoy the freedom we have in this Great Country- the Home of the Brave. Allow me to articulate what I think Andres Bonifacio would say to all of us if he were around to witness the current economic and socio-political milieu. I will share with you an excerpt from a poem I wrote years ago titled “Andres Bonifacio’s Cry:”

His agitated  spirit upbraids us  with a cry

“The walls are back and   higher than what we tore down
The masters are much worse; they too were slaves at dawn
Is this the freedom for which  comrades  had to die?
The vanguards’ empty spots  await you or you fall 
Rush! Take the places of brave  forebears  before
Bore into  slavery,  as in the days of yore
The times demand sacrifice; please, you heed the call.”

The voice is hoarse now; from our apathy we rise
Hunger’s   plea for salvation demands our urgent action
The people’s purse was robbed again; we struggle  on
Resist sharp thorns and swords; our  freedom is the prize
For while we bite our tongues and cry our silent tears
We give the foes the whip they crack to make us slaves
Submission is  the source of power   tyranny  craves
The streets beckon us! Now! Let us triumph over   fears!

Mabuhay si Andres Bonifacio at ang iba pa nating mga bayani. Mabuhay  ang Pilipinas. Mabuhay tayong lahat!