Some 3,000 participants from 40 countries across Asia and the Pacific, Africa, Middle East, Latin America, North America and Europe concluded the first-ever International Festival for Peoples’ Rights and Struggles (IFPRS) on the first week of July in the Philippines with an overflowing of energy and commitment to defend people’s rights and carry on the struggle for freedom, democracy and social justice. The IFPRS was a rare opportunity for people’s movements, progressive institutions, groups and individuals across the globe to share and learn from each other about new and longstanding threats to people’s individual and collective rights, while exploring solutions that address the systemic roots of these problems.
From July 2 to 6, 2011, a broad range of activities including simultaneous forums, workshops, exhibits, strategy sessions, film showings and speak out/march were held in a number of halls and theatres at the University of the Philippines Diliman campus in Quezon City.
Although some events were held earlier, the festival held its Common Opening in the morning of July 5 at the UP Film Institute. Workers, peasants, youth, women, migrants, indigenous people, scientists, teachers, health professionals, artists and cultural workers from all over the world gathered as a festive throng along Magsaysay Avenue and witnessed an impressive and symbolic opening ritual led by the Indigenous Peoples’ Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL).
Prof. Jose Maria Sison, Chairperson of the International League of Peoples’ Struggles (ILPS), expressed his appreciation via a video message, for the convening of the Festival immediately before the Fourth International Assembly of the ILPS. The keynote address from Prof. Francois Houtart, founder of the Tricontinental Centre (CETRI), highlighted the multiple crises confronting the world today, and stressed the need for heightened international solidarity and cooperation. Ms. Marie Enriquez of KARAPATAN expounded on the challenges of going beyond the pursuit of individual human rights, and putting these within the larger frame of the assertion of collective human rights. Prof. Gianni Tognoni of the Leilo Basso Foundation and the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal informed the participants of the significance that the Festival was being organized around the time of the 35th anniversary of the Algiers Declaration which recognizes the peoples’ inherent right to strug gle. Among the more prominent personalities and social activists who participated in the IFPRS include Prof. Michel Chossudovsky, Antonio Tujan Jr.,Irene Fernandez, Mary Wahu Kaara, Demba Moussa Dembele, Prof. Edward Oyugi, Mr. Mamdou Habashi, Dr. Azra Talat Sayeed, Chennaiah Poguri, Dr. Carol Araullo and many others.
The festival served as a platform for alternative cultures generated by people in struggle. Among the IFPRS events, one of the early favorites was the 1st International Film Festival on People’s Struggles, also known as AGITPROP. For three days, film enthusiasts viewed dozens of films that featured people’s movements and struggles against imperialism.
Another well-attended activity was the International Conference on Progressive Culture which expounded on cultural work as an integral part of the struggle for fundamental social change. The conference probed on the role of people’s art in shaping the society of the future. A number of participating organizations displayed informative exhibits at the main entrance lobby and side foyers of the main hall. In addition, information activists conducted the IT Skillshare, a sharing session on information security and new media practices for activists.
Several IFPRS events tackled the current global crises and the role of the US and other big capitalist powers. The RESIST Forum discussed the multiple crises of the global order, how they threaten the peoples of the world especially in developing countries, and the possible alternatives and cases for system change. A separate forum discussed the current challenges of climate change. Meanwhile, two separate events – a Seminar on the US War on Terror and Counterinsurgency and an International Panel Discussion on US Military Bases – discussed the political and military dimensions of the crises and how these affect the human rights situation and peoples’ struggles worldwide. Participants launched a global anti-bases campaign.
As a counterpoint to the discussions on the global crisis, IFPRS organized a Seminar on People’s Resistance and Struggles for Liberation as one of its major events. The seminar featured two panels: one on People’s Resistance and National Liberation Struggles, and another on Indigenous Peoples Struggles for Self-Determination and Liberation. As a separate event, a Workshop on the Permanent People’s Tribunal attended by law students, practitioners and professors tackled the question of impunity and the rule of justice.
Still another key IFPRS event was the Asia regional forum of the Foro Internacional Democracia y Cooperacion (FIDC), during which delegates also discussed various aspects of the global economic and political crises and the responses of peoples of Asia. The event concluded with the signing of the FIDC Manila Declaration establishing the FIDC Asia-Pacific that aims to strengthen international solidarity and peoples’ movement in the region.
Two general assemblies – those of the International Women’s Alliance (IWA) and the International Migrant’s Alliance (IMA) – were also organized under the auspices of IFPRS. The IMA’s 2nd General Assembly came out with their General Plan of Action (GPOA) and other resolutions. Meanwhile, the IWA General Assembly forged the IWA Declaration and the IWA Constitution. Both alliances also had elected a new set of officers. A related event was The Global Movement of Migrants: Current Situation and Resistance against Imperialist Attacks. Meanwhile, a Solidarity Forum on Youth Struggles sought to view the changing “landscape of youth defiance” amid the current global disorder.
The concerns of the world’s peasantry and other small rural producers, particularly those in Asia and Africa, were well-represented in an International Forum on Aid and Development Effectiveness in Agriculture and Rural Development, sponsored by the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS). Led by the PCFS, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Asian Peasant Coalition, and IBON International, IFPRS participants then held the People’s Speak Out for Right to Land and Life – an outdoor protest march to the main office of the Philippine Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).
IFPRS was organized jointly by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), International League of Peoples’ Struggles, Concerned Artists of the Philippines, Habi Arts, IBON International, International Migrants Alliance, International Women’s Alliance, League of Filipino Students, Peace for Life, Peoples’ Action Network, People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty, People’s Movement on Climate Change, RESIST!, Asian Peasant Coalition, Indigenous People’s Movement for Self-determination and Liberation, and the UP College of Mass Communications, with the participation of many international organizations.
The spirit of celebration and hope, which suffused the IFPRS, was best expressed by IBON International Director Antonio Tujan Jr. who termed the IFPRS “a celebration of people’s struggles, a festival of hope.” According to him, in the midst of the financial and economic crisis and attacks of monopoly capitalism, people around the world remain irrepressible as they weather the effects of the crises, assert their rights, and fight oppression and exploitation. People continue to build and strengthen their unions and organizations, create mass movements and face the exploiters and oppressors in every arena of engagement.
It is oft said that a revolution is a “festival of the oppressed.” Although no guns were fired during IFPRS, it was certainly a festival of the oppressed as the participants from different countries concluded the event with a powerful message to all peoples of the world: “We may be different in colour, but our hearts and blood are the same. We are one in the struggle for a better world.”