I was a student in UP when I joined the anti-APEC protests in Manila in 1996. It was the first time the Philippines would host the APEC Leaders’ Summit at a time when the US-Ramos regime was drumming up the country’s status as a soon-to-be Newly Industrialized Country (NIC). At that time, the Philippines was being touted as one of the so-called Tiger Economies in Asia. Classes and work were suspended. The government swept away the poor communities near the airport to hide the reality of poverty in the country.
The Ramos government went on an PR blitz, even producing an ad and an APEC theme song proclaiming “Sikat ang Pilipino!” A photo of a grandmother and her grandson crying while their house was being demolished became the symbol of the heavy-handed government preparations for the meeting.
All this talk of the economy taking off would come to a halt when the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis hit and exposed the hollow claims of growth made by the Philippine government.
For the counter-APEC events, local activists were joined by their counterparts from abroad. They held conferences, workshops, and discussed the impacts of “globalization” on the Philippine economy. At the time, the Philippine Senate just very recently ratified the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in December 1994 which paved the way for the country joining the World Trade Organization.
We discussed how the policies of liberalization, privatization and deregulation would not lead to genuine growth for the people. We talked about an alternative to the decaying world capitalist system and the need for militant people’s struggle and international solidarity.
It’s important to note that the mass movement in the Philippines at the time was regrouping and regaining strength after encountering errors over the past few years. The movement then was not as strong as it is now.
On the day that the APEC leaders arrived, BAYAN and the People’s Campaign Against Imperialist Globalization (PCAIG) launched a People’s Caravan to Subic in Olongapo where the Summit was to be held. The contingent assembled in the vacant lot where the UP Ayala Technohub now stands. They were blocked by the police several times in Quezon City. The people resisted and moved forward until they were finally stopped in Dinalupihan, Bataan.
The whole world saw that the Filipino people were fighting for national liberation, economic sovereignty and genuine pro-people development. The Filipino people felt the warm solidarity of various groups from abroad who joined the protests. As a young activist, it was indeed inspiring to see all these personalities from different countries marching side by side with Filipino activists. We knew that the future of the struggle was bright, that we had a world to win.
It’s been 19 years since that APEC meet. Not much has changed in our country. Government is again trying to hide the poor. Mass actions will again be suppressed. Just like in 1996, government is making a big deal about the so-called economic growth under the “daang matuwid”. Government is still trying to convince the people that neoliberal economic prescriptions are actually good for them even if it has meant depressed wages, high prices of utilities, poverty, hunger, destruction of the environment, plunder of our resources and the loss of economic sovereignty. In many ways, the situation now is worse than it was in 1996. One wonders why, after 19 years, we’re still not past making the same claims of progress.
The big difference now however is the mass movement. We’ve gained a lot of experience and won victories in different struggles. And we are again ready confront the big powers and the anti-people polices represented by APEC. We will again be joined by activists from abroad, this time with even broader platforms of international solidarity. Also, more people have seen first hand the negative effects of the neoliberal economic policies that APEC represents. People are questioning why everything is being privatized; why contractualization is the norm; why migration has increased year after year.
I look back out our experience in 1996 and can’t help but feel excitement for what will happen in 2015. There is a huge opportunity to discuss the issue of why the Philippines has failed to industrialize and develop and to offer solutions for pro-people development.
See you on November 18 and 19. =)