GABRIELA USA's Open Letter To Tony Meloto of Gawad Kalinga

Photo credit: Gabriela USA

Photo credit: Gabriela USA

Press Statement
May 28, 2014

Reference: Valerie Francisco, Chairperson, GABRIELA USA,

Dear Mr. Tony Meloto,

On behalf of the GABRIELA USA member organizations, we want to extend our perspective on your recent remarks at the University of Hawaii, the subsequent letter from the Center for Philippine Studies at UH and your history of remarks regarding “nation-building” towards your “Filipino Dream of ending poverty in our country.” In your official statement in response to UH-CPS, you rebutted that you are not sexist, elitist nor do you have colonial mentality; in this letter, we want to point out the glaring contradictions in those statements.

When you speak of “nation-building”, we should ask “nation-building for whom?” 

Touting Filipinas as the corporeal representation of a nation that wants to attract foreign investors does not minimize the very real and significantly negative impacts of neo-colonial policies and unequal trade relations with foreigners. From trafficked labor, prostituted women in rest and recreation areas as well as militarized regions, and exported migrant workers, Filipinas’ bodies have long been the battleground and commodity from which the Philippine government and foreign investors have profited. Filipinas have been the backbone of the national economy and at the same time, its sacrificial lamb. Furthermore, Filipinas are hyper-sexualized due to the longstanding history of US imperialism and rest and recreation activities of US troops in the Philippines. 

It is problematic when you say you’re not sexist because you have daughters. Having daughters, a wife or a mother does not automatically exempt someone from being sexist. Sexism is a systemic inequality between genders wherein men have substantially more privilege than women and transgender people in all social and economic arenas, including economic options, safety, security, schooling, housing and services. 

Mr. Meloto, your brand of sexism is even more complex in the fact that it is intertwined with your interests in climbing the class ladder, championing the very agents that exploit, abuse and harm Filipinas, namely the Philippine government and corporations (local and international) is absolutely contradictory. In several of your past speeches and the most recent one under the microscope, you have used Filipinas’ bodies and identities as bait to attract foreign investors to the country. Regardless of your intention to racially uplift other racial groups through sending Filipinas off to marry an American here and a Brit there, as you’ve claimed, you are still using Filipinas as the fodder for barter. We are not “cappuccinos,” a drink to be bought and consumed. Our children are not for sale either. 

The piecemeal reforms you offer through Gawad Kalinga will not resolve the chronic poverty in the Philippines. The poor do not need fixing, rather there is a need in changing a system that makes people poor is crucial and necessary in ending the suffering of Filipinos, including and especially women and children who are often the first victims of a neo-colonial and neo-liberal system which you tout are the solutions to the Filipino people’s problems. Not only are you working with the Philippine government and foreign investors that continues to exploit Filipinas, you are also defending, apologizing and promoting exploitative practices alongside them.

As Filipina immigrants and Filipina Americans who are children of immigrants living in the US, our members have experienced separation from our families due to rampant poverty in the country, lack of economic opportunities and a state that does not genuinely prioritize its people. Filipinos need a responsive and people-centered government, national industries and a social, political and economic system that does not place foreign interests first. To truly build the nation requires a radical change in the current system, and it is in a people’s struggle to create a society that treats daughters equitably.

We cannot address the problems that Filipinas and the Philippine nation are facing unless we address the root causes of the people’s suffering. The respect afforded to Filipinas is not one that should be merely nominal and does not just come from having daughters, rather it requires the dismantling of the very systems that causes extreme poverty and allows for labor export, militarization, worker exploitation, landlessness, and discrimination among Filipinos in the Philippines and throughout the world.