NEW YORK, NY — Congressman Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano, of Anakpawis Partylist (“Toiling Masses”), representing workers and farmers, and part of the progressive minority block in Philippine Congress, spoke at a community forum on June 26 hosted by the Philippine Consulate.
He was introduced by Consul General Mario de Leon. In his opening message, Ka Paeng gave a short background of himself and Anakpawis Partylist and spoke extensively on the Philippine national situation, particularly on bread and butter issues of agriculture, jobs, and the economy.
A longtime activist and advocate for the interest of poor rural communities in the Philippines, Mariano stressed a need to create and strengthen national industries and to develop agricultural lands to create more jobs and make the Philippines more self-sufficient as opposed to being dependent on exporting our raw materials and importing products from other countries.
“Naniniwala ang Anakpawis Partylist na kaya nating i-produce, in sufficient quantity o higit pa sa pangangailangan ng ating lumalaking dagdag-bilang ng mamamayan, ang pangunahing pagkaing-butil ng ating bansa. Basta lang po tama ang ating mga patakarang pang-agrikultura at pang-ekonomiya, at may todo-ayuda ng ating gobyerno sa mga magsasaka [Anakpawis Partylist believes that we can produce — in sufficient quantity or even more than the need of our ever-expanding number of people — the main staple food of our country, as long as there are proper policies on agriculture and economy and there is total support from the government for our farmers], Mariano stated.
He also emphasized the importance of genuine agrarian reform to provide the farmers, which comprise the biggest production force in the country, with the means of production to strengthen their disposable income and purchasing power, which will, in turn, also strengthen the country’s economy.
When asked about Philippine government now becoming a creditor instead of debtor to other countries and institutions, Ka Paeng stressed the need for the government to prioritize providing the basic needs of its people, such as education, healthcare and living wages, instead of lending money or prioritizing debt servicing and privatizing public services which causes the prices of basic services and commodities to rise, to the burden of the country’s domestic population.
Mariano also discussed issues immediately relevant to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) by addressing the Philippine government’s Labor Export Policy (LEP), explaining the dire lack of jobs in the country due to lack of national industries as the root cause of 11 million Filipinos working in over 182 countries around the world, while separated from their families; oftentimes victims of exploitation and abuse, such as labor trafficking, which has become more common amongst Filipinos in the US.
Acknowledging that the economic contributions of overseas Filipinos keep the Philippine economy afloat, Mariano called for the need to raise the Department of Budget and Management’s allocation for Legal Assistance Funds and Assistance to OFWs in case migrants seek help from the government.