Friday, May 14, 2010

From the Philippines Election Delegation - Kyle Todd

May 9, 2010

“Struggling to Own the Land That They Till”

Throughout our visit to Tarlac, Central Luzon, we spent our time in Hacienda Luicita. This 6,435-hectare plantation estate, what locals simply call “Hacienda”, is owned by the Cojuango family, of which presidential favorite Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino is a member. On November, 16, 2004, Hacienda was also the site of a massacre where 7 workers were killed, and over 200 more were injured, during a blockade where farmers were calling for better wages and benefits. On May 9, the PIOM observers had the chance to meet with local labor leaders and activists who continue to advocate for better working conditions and a more equitable and fair system of land distribution and use – continuing the struggle of the November 16 martyrs.

On May 9, we had a chance to meet with the president of the Hacienda farmers union, United Luicita Workers Union (ULWU), the president of a local union of factory workers, the International Wirings Systems Workers Union (IWSWU) and members of MARTIR, an activist group of family members of November 16 martyrs.

Lito Bais, the president of the ULWU, began by telling us about the history of the workers’ movement in Hacienda. He told us about how the Cojuango family obtained the Hacienda land through a loan from the United States, on the condition that the land would eventually be redistributed to the farmers who worked the land. He told us that when the time came land redistribution, the owners gave workers the choice of a “Stock Distribution Option” (SDO). He said that the workers chose the SDO because they were lead to believe that it would be more lucrative for them than communal redistribution. He said that, not only was the SDO a weak deal, but that the workers have not received one centavo of the 30% profit-sharing that was promised through the SDO.

Both the ULWU president and members of the MARTIR group told us about political intimidation that goes on in the Hacienda. While in a public restroom, Bais was met with the barrel of a rifle and told to watch his back. MARTIR member Felix Nacpil stated that military officers harass him almost nightly and unknown community members continually put up propaganda associating activists with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). And, as we would later witness, military detachments are pervasive throughout the area. Bais noted that, given the people’s past experience with state and paramilitary repression, this serves as a heavy-handed deterrent to workers’ movements and progressive political activity.

Leading up to the election, these activists were endorsing the ANAKPAWIS party list. They campaigned hard, and even conducted voter education and formed an anti-fraud group. However, they feared campaigning past dark because, not only do they face intimidation by military and police officers, but also by local paramilitary groups like the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU). Local members of our PIOM delegation also noted that the group will likely face increased repression if Noynoy Aquino wins the presidential election, as he has a familial interest in profiting from the Hacienda and preventing any just implementation of land reform or workers’ rights.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Suresh Naidu blogs the Philippine elections!

Cross posted here.

I’m Suresh Naidu, a friend and colleague of Noel. I’ll be guest-blogging the upcoming Philippine elections.

The Philippine  Congress

I’m here in Manila with the NLG component of the People’s International Observers Mission (not as a lawyer, but a fellow traveler). The PIOM is a coordinating group for international election observers, and they are getting us up to speed before sending the 80+ internationals out in teams to various parts of the country on Sunday. (Mine is Mindanao in the south.)

We’re on day 2 of our orientation, and yesterday we got a rundown on Philippine politics and what’s at stake in this election. Two things that need to be established right off the bat: (A) The Philippines is terribly unequal and poor (ranked 105 in the Human Development Index), with a plantation based agricultural sector and a nascent foreign-owned service economy. (B) The government’s policy options all waft out from a noxious cauldron of repression, foreign debt service, and corruption.

The standard academic story (which is probably right) is that Philippine politics is a Frankenstein of local clans and patronage networks welded into political machines by national politicians. Local landowners use their economic (and paramilitary) power to secure votes, in the classic Latin American fashion, and then combine these vote banks across clans and coalitions to form national electoral blocs. The result is that virtually all of Congress is landlord (either urban or rural) controlled, and all the presidential candidates come from the same landowning elite.

Need proof? Imelda Marcos is running for the Congress in her family stronghold of Ilocos Norte, in northern Luzon. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is running for the Senate, which is elected at-large. Meanwhile, the likely winner of the presidential poll, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino (son of former president Cory Aquino), is not just the owner of any plantation in Central Luzon ... he is the owner of the Hacienda Lucita, the site of a 2004 massacre of striking workers.

Ballots, to be counted

The incumbent president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA as the acronym-loving population has dubbed her), has epitomized the worse features of Philippine politics, being cartoonishly kleptocratic and corrupt. She is also very good at the Philippine political game. She has faced down impeachment proceedings and coup attempts.

GMA managed to get the Philippines branded the most corrupt country in Asia, and her the most corrupt president in Philippine history. (I would still give that title to Ferdinand Marcos.) In addition, she has stacked the electoral body and the Supreme Court with her allies and used the military to persecute the only source of political innovation permitted by the existing institutions: the left-wing party-lists, which contest the 20% of House seats that are open to “marginalized sectors” and elected at large.

In other words, the job of the election observers is cut out for us. Observers are no panacea for the underlying inequality and weak institutions that are the Philippine colonial inheritance. That said, independent electoral observers can improve the electoral process in the face of repression and widespread fraud. While it is a small contribution towards changing the balance of power between elites and citizens in the Philippines ... it is a small contribution towards the only thing that will ultimately allow badly needed reforms to occur.

More reports to come.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Puerto Rico - Day 1

Our first day in San Juan: Flickr Photoset

Come back for more substantive posts.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Agent Orange Continues to Poison Vietnam

From 1961 to 1971, the U.S. military sprayed Vietnam with Agent Orange, which contained large quantities of Dioxin, in order to defoliate the trees for military objectives. Dioxin is one of the most dangerous chemicals known to man. It has been recognized by the World Health Organization as a carcinogen (causes cancer) and by the American Academy of Medicine as a teratogen (causes birth defects).

Between 2.5 and 4.8 million people were exposed to Agent Orange. 1.4 billion hectares of land and forest - approximately 12 percent of the land area of Vietnam - were sprayed.

The Vietnamese who were exposed to the chemical have suffered from cancer, liver damage, pulmonary and heart diseases, defects to reproductive capacity, and skin and nervous disorders. Children and grandchildren of those exposed have severe physical deformities, mental and physical disabilities, diseases, and shortened life spans. The forests and jungles in large parts of southern Vietnam have been devastated and denuded. They may never grow back and if they do, it will take 50 to 200 years to regenerate. Animals that inhabited the forests and jungles have become extinct, disrupting the communities that depended on them. The rivers and underground water in some areas have also been contaminated. Erosion and desertification will change the environment, contributing to the warming of the planet and dislocation of crop and animal life.

The U.S. government and the chemical companies knew that Agent Orange, when produced rapidly at high temperatures, would contain large quantities of Dioxin. Nevertheless, the chemical companies continued to produce it in this manner. The U.S. government and the chemical companies also knew that the Bionetics Study, commissioned by the government in 1963, showed that even low levels of Dioxin produced significant deformities in unborn offspring of laboratory animals. But they suppressed that study and continued to spray Vietnam with Agent Orange. It wasnt until the study was leaked in 1969 that the spraying of Agent Orange was discontinued.

U.S. soldiers who served in Vietnam have experienced similar illnesses. After they sued the chemical companies, including Dow andMonsanto, that manufactured and sold Agent Orange to the government, the case settled out of court for $180 million which gave few plaintiffs more than a few thousand dollars each. Later the U.S. veterans won a legislative victory for compensation for exposure to Agent Orange. They receive $1.52 billion per year in benefits.

But when the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange sued the chemical companies in federal court, U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein dismissed the lawsuit, concluding that Agent Orange did not constitute a poison weapon prohibited by the Hague Convention of 1907. Weinstein had reportedly told the chemical companies when they settled the U.S. veterans suit that their liability was over and he was making good on his promise. His dismissal was affirmed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. The chemical
companies admitted in their filing in the Supreme Court that the harm alleged by the victims was foreseeable although not intended. How can something that is foreseeable be unintended?

On May 15 and 16 of this year, the International Peoples Tribunal of Conscience in Support of the Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange convened in Paris and heard testimony from 27 victims, witnesses andscientific experts. Seven people from three continents served as judges of the Tribunal, which was sponsored by the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL).

Testimony given by the witnesses showed the following:

Mai Giang Vu, a member of the Army of South Vietnam, carried barrels
of the chemicals on his back. His two sons could not walk or function
normally, their limbs gradually curled up and they could only crawl.
They died at the ages of 23 and 25.

Pham The Minh, whose parents also served in the South Vietnamese Army,
showed the Tribunal his severely deformed, crooked, skinny legs; he
has great difficulty walking, as well as digestive and pulmonary

To Nga Tran is a French Vietnamese who worked as a journalist during
the spraying. Her daughter weighed 6.6 pounds at the age of three
months. Her skin began shredding and she could not bear to have skin
contact or simple demonstrations of love. She died at 17 months,
weighing 6.6 pounds. Ms. To described a woman who gave birth to a ball
with no human form. Many children are born without brains; others make
inhuman sounds.

Rosemarie Hohn Mizo is the widow of George Mizo, who served in the
U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1967. He slept on contaminated ground and
consumed food and drink that were also contaminated. George refused to
serve after he was wounded for the third time; he was court-martialed
and sentenced to 2-1/2 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.
George helped found the Friendship Village where Vietnamese victims
live in a supportive environment. He died from conditions related to
his exposure to Agent Orange.

Georges Doussin, co-founder of the Friendship Village, visited a
dormitory where he saw 50 highly deformed monsters, who produced
inhuman sounds. One man whose parent had been exposed to Agent Orange
had four toes on each foot. Doussin said Agent Orange creates total
anarchy in evolution.

Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong, from Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City
(Saigon), sees many children born without arms and/or legs, without
heads or faces, and without a brain chamber. According to the World
Health Organization, only 1 4 parts per trillion (PPT) of Dioxin in
breast milk can cause severe deformities in fetuses and even death.
But up to 1450 PPT are found in maternal milk in Vietnam.

Dr. Jeanne Stellman, who wrote the seminal article about Agent Orange
in the magazine Nature, testified that this is the largest unstudied
environmental disaster in the world (except for natural disasters).

Dr. Jean Grassman, from Brooklyn College at City University of New
York, testified that Dioxin is a potent cellular disregulator which
alters a variety of pathways to disrupt many systems. Children, she
said, are very sensitive to Dioxin; the intrauterine or post natal
exposure to Dioxin may result in altered immune, neurobehavioral, and
hormonal functioning. Women pass their exposure to their children both
in utero and through the excretion of Dioxin in breast milk.

Many ecosystems have been destroyed and Dioxin continues to poison
Vietnam, especially in the several hot spots.

Chemist Dr. Pierre Vermeulin testified that it was estimated that $1
billion would be required to restore one hectare of land in Vietnam.
The cost of caring for the victims, many of whom need 24-hour care, is

In 1973, President Richard Nixon promised $3.25 billion in
reconstruction aid to Vietnam without any preconditions. That aid was
never granted.

There are only 11 Friendship Villages in Vietnam; 1000 are needed to care for the child victims of Agent Orange.

Last week, the Bureau of the IADL, meeting in Hanoi, presented President Nguyen Minh Triet of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam with the final decision of the Tribunal. The judges found the U.S. government and the chemical companies guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ecocide during the illegal U.S. war of aggression in Vietnam. We recommended that the Agent Orange Commission be established in Vietnam to assess the damages suffered by the people and destruction of the environment, and that the U.S. government and the chemical companies provide compensation for the damage and destruction.

I told the President that it always struck me that even as U.S. bombs were dropping on the people of Vietnam, they always distinguished between the American government and the American people. The President responded, We fought the forces of aggression but we always reserved our love for the people of America . . . because we knew they always supported us.

An estimated 3 million Vietnamese people were killed in the war, which also claimed 58,000 American lives. For many other Vietnamese and U.S. veterans and their families, the war continues to take its toll.

Several treaties the United States has ratified require an effective remedy for violations of human rights. It is time to make good on Nixons promise and remedy the terrible wrong the U.S. government perpetrated on the people of Vietnam. Congress must pass legislation to compensate the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange as it did for the U.S. Vietnam veteran victims.

Our government must know that it cannot continue to use weapons that target and harm civilians. Indeed, the U.S. military is using depleted uranium in Iraq and Afghanistan, which will poison those countries for incalculable decades.

By Marjorie Cohn
President of National Lawyers Guild

Student Reflections

My name is Dan Parziale and I am a student at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Since I have returned from Vietnam I have found myself reflecting upon my experiences there quite frequently. Again, I want to thank the IADL and the NLG for inviting me and to Ami Silverman, Franklin Sterling and Loyola Law School for supporting me financially to be able to make the trip.
Currently I am working at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles working in the Immigration Unit and I am currently working on an asylum case from southeast Asia. It has been very interesting to work on a case from this part of the world shortly after spending time there and it has helped to keep our time there in perspective.
One thing I had a problem with at the conference was the way we seemed to close our eyes, or at least our mouths, to some of the glaring problems in several parts of the world. Human rights violations in China were not mentioned and Sudan, Uganda and Columbia were only mentioned in passing, to name a few. I understand that there is only so much we can cover in four or five days, but the level of focus on the US was disconcerting to me in the face of these other countries that deserve our attention. Vietnam, while being the host country, faces several of its own challenges and the country reports from the UN and Human Rights Watch clearly reflect as much. Vietnam was all but hailed as a bastion of freedom and progress. This was troubling for me. While I understand that, as one of the world’s strongest powers, the US rightfully garners a lot of attention. I strongly criticize our shortcomings and call for the prosecution of our leaders when we break international law, but I felt as if some of these other hotbeds of human rights violations needed attention as well. They may have been discussed in the other commissions and if so, then I need to speak with the people who were in those meetings.

That being said, I will walk away from the conference with an overwhelming amount of respect for the people of Vietnam. I was humbled by the love shown by them and the forgiveness expressed for the wrongs perpetrated against the people of their country. They exemplified the qualities that the world will need to adopt in order to create the truly peaceful world for which we strive. I recently heard someone say that even the weakest person can carry the heaviest of grudges and maybe it takes the strongest to let go of that burden. I hope that we can learn from the strength of the Vietnamese people.

I was inspired by the lawyers at this conference who work for international peace. Expanding one’s practice to think about the impact that it can have upon the world is a noble venture and we need more lawyers to take on issues of international human and environmental rights.

It is absolutely imperative that the students and lawyers who were in Vietnam share their experiences and knowledge with the people who were not able to be there. Lincoln Ellis, a fellow law student, and I are going to host a brown-bag lunch or informal dinner here in Los Angeles sometime in the next month or so to share stories and talk about our experiences in Vietnam. If anyone would like to get an invitation, feel free to email me at

Home, Home it is Strange

It's always hard returning to the US after being out of the belly of the beast for a while. Hell, it's even hard coming back when we go up to Vancouver for the Jazz Festival for the day.

After spending two weeks in Vietnam, a country we self-professedly tried to "bomb back into the stone age," it's been particularly hard.

We were taken off guard by the way the War managed to come up virtually every day in some form, large or small. Some of those were expected: the Museum of the Revolution, where the exhibits spoke with great detail and eloquence about what the US did, and how the Vietnamese won the War and defeated imperialism. Very inspiring, and hopeful. Some were unexpected: sitting on a bench out at the temple in Hoan Kiem Lake, looking for the legendary turtles, we were approached by an elderly Vietnamese man who kept asking , "American?" when we said yes and were able to communicate that, he turned around, pulled up his shirt and showed us the torture scars on his back. Taking a leaf from Susan's book, we apologized in one of our few words of Vietnamese, "Sin Loi" (I'm sorry.). He turned back around, took our hands and smiled. warmly, and then took his leave of us. But his face remains burned in my memory.

Then there was the American-born Brit we shared a train compartment with going back to Hanoi from Hue, who insisted, on the verge of apoplexy, that the US was right, and that the domino theory was right, decades after it was proved to be a lie and a pretext.

Now, here we are back in the US, which has learned, apparently, no lessons from history, returning to stories of attacks and bombing in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, where we just killed 60 attending a funeral, by remote-controlled drone, witnesses to a nightmareous science fiction movie of a distopian high tech world.

The problem with Che's dictate that we Americans must fight here in the belly of the beast, is the amount of acid and bile that lives here, the amount of denial and apathy.

But, fight we must, A former client now witnessing for peace in Jordan, on the Iragi border sent a message that yes, the Iraqis too know about our demonstrations and marches: that the media in the Middle East give them prominent coverage and elicit public discussion. So, 30 years from now, our efforts may appear in the history books of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the people may know that we stood in solidarity in the small and large ways that we can.

From Bellingham, WA, a designated "Troops Home Now City" we struggle on. Another World is Possible, Another US is Necessary."

Larry Hildes

Monday, June 15, 2009

Friendship and the Sad Days of Summer Snow

“If you want to scare the vampires you simply drag them into the light.” Michael Franti.

Heading out of Vietnam I passed a beautiful tile mosaic wall dedicated to next years’ 1000 year anniversary of the founding of Hanoi. The city breathes with old and new. It’s perhaps this long continuum that adds to its strength and resilience. No where was this more evident in the efforts of the Friendship Village - a home for the vets and their offspring whose neurological systems and DNA flow with the chemical known as Agent Orange.

I was torn about going to the Village. I had seen the film produced by a Japan filmmaker that she dedicated to her husband - a Vietnam Vet who was caught up in the blanketing of miles of Vietnam with Agent Orange and had succumbed to Cancer. I was against the war and its crimes but felt I might not have any more juice or understanding, especially when it comes to the poisoning of children. I have filled up on both love and horrors these past few weeks. I began to think I might be feeling a little numb? Was there something to be gained by seeing the victims in order to understand the impact of war on people?

Meeting with Director of Village and head of the Victims of Agent Orange Association
The children, often with deformed faces, missing limbs etc - birth defects as a result of their parents exposure to the Toxin - remains the vestiges of a war that lives on in the bodies of its victims and is passed to the next generation. From 1961 to 1971, the U.S. military sprayed Vietnam with Agent Orange, which contained large quantities of Dioxin, allegedly in order to defoliate the trees for military objectives. Dioxin according to the World Health Organization is a carcinogen (causes cancer) and is identified by the American Academy of Medicine as a teratogen (causes birth defects). Between 2.5 and 4.8 million people were exposed to Agent Orange. 1.4 billion hectares of land and forest - approximately 12 percent of the land area of Vietnam - were sprayed. The countless birth defects and injuries are staggering.

But how often we don’t want to face the sad history of our use of violence and our historical efforts from Wounded Knee to Korea and onto Vietnam, to wipe out mass groups of people through massacres, carpet bombing and chemical weapons (depleted uranium weapons in Iraq) in the name of peace and progress. But as we walked into the first classroom my apprehension slipped away and I knew why I was here. I quickly got down to the side of their table and began to talk with them, touch and play. I remembered what I had learned from Fred Donaldson’s Creative Play class. Don’t touch the heads and get down to their space. It was transformative and their smiles infectious. I was so grateful I came.

It is important to experience the casualties of war if only to put a human face on it. These children have been medically linked to Agent Orange decades later. According to the World Health Organization, only 1 - 4 parts per trillion (PPT) of Dioxin in breast milk can cause severe deformities in fetuses and even death. But up to 1450 PPT are found in maternal milk in Vietnam. Dr. Jeanne Stellman, an agent orange expert, says that "this is the largest unstudied environmental disaster in the world (except for natural disasters)."

The US courts threw out the Agent Orange case brought by some fellow Guild lawyers and friends Jeanne Mirer and Jonathan Moore on behalf of some victims of Agent Orange and their association. The court concluded that Agent Orange did not constitute a poison weapon prohibited by the Hague Convention of 1907. The Supreme Court refused to review it.

US veterans had successfully sued the chemical companies Dow and Monsanto (now bringing us GMO Food) who settled out of court for $180 million. Later the vets received $1.52 billion per year in benefits from Congress. Despite promises from Nixon of unconditional aid and clear liability, no assistance has been made for the children or the other victims in Vietnam. Will we ever truly heal until something is done and ackowledged?

The U.S. government and the chemical companies knew that Agent Orange, when produced rapidly at high temperatures, would contain large quantities of Dioxin. They also knew that the Bionetics Study, commissioned by the government in 1963, showed that even low levels of Dioxin produced significant deformities in unborn offspring of laboratory animals. The report was suppressed, Agent Orange continued to be sprayed until after the report was leaked in 1969. Furthermore the Eco-damage wiped out significant forests, made species extinct and still contaminates parts of Vietnam. No US funds have been paid to clean up the mess.

In order to continue the struggle to Congress to get some funds for the victims and their families a Court of Conscience was called in Paris in May by our group IADL and the findings are astonishing and stark reminder that the breadth of destruction left by acts of war go far beyond the “target..” You can read the decision of the International Judges at our site at On my visit to this Friendship Village I learned that this fellow I met ( pictured below ) had had several children but they all died as infants (an all too common event for parents exposed to Agent Orange). He had been in the areas blanketed with Agent Orange during the war. The Village lets him come for rest and to work with him, as he has difficulty with mental functioning. 

Can we even imagine such a trauma to a family? Today I had my new grandson’s 1st birthday party.....Unimaginable.

I recall vividly in 1971 on the steps of the Capital, Peter Paul and Mary singing that deep refrain “when will we ever learn, when will we ever learn?” It pains me that forty years later we still are duped into believing that war is an answer for anything. I think of the millions of Iraqi families scarred for life and for generations.

In the end it is the smiles, songs and faces of the children from Friendship Village that will stick with me forever.
We are creative beings with unlimited potential but we cannot be silent in the face of those who cling to the past ways of relating and solving problems. I hope all of you reading will find a small way to let your congressperson know that they should support a Victim Fund for Agent Orange victims in Vietnam and you can make a donate to Friendship House ( But also find something in your life that supports a move to peace in our world. On March 18, 2002, Vietnam Friendship Village Founder George Mizo died at his home in the village of Hofen, Germany. His wife Rosi and son Michael sent out a message of love for George: "Peace is giving something to life...Your spirit is living in our hearts and in the Vietnam Friendship Village. --With love, Rosi and Michael Mizo, Hildegard Hohn, and all the people you have touched with your life."

Eric Sirotkin
Ashland Oregon

PS - Thanks Marjorie Cohen, one of the Judges of the Court, from some of the stats above. Read her full article on Agent Orange on our site also at