Monday, December 21, 2009

Blogging after 100

Why do I blog? A question I should have answered or at least explained at the outset. So, on this 100th blog, let me submit the following.

An old adage says that small minds spend their time talking about people, average minds talk about events, and great minds debate ideas. It was the latter that drove me to start a blog about ideas and to challenge my readers to engage in an intellectual discussion.

Yet, I was struck with the ambivalence that blogging has given me. At first, I was worried about this new-found power to hurt and upset other people, or perhaps the power to make a fool of myself. On the other hand, I found it encouraging having the power to expose and reveal what I saw around me.

Blogging is an invention of free speech in the era of technological change. It’s part of the core freedom of every modern society that people have the right to express themselves freely. It has the full backing of modern technology and free conversation which has been with us since the Enlightenment of the 18th century. So, when I decided to blog on June 11, 2008, I knew full well that world history and natural reason are on my side and that was good enough.

To blog is like to meet in salons and coffee shops to talk about politics, the arts, or the latest gossip. Who cares if so much time is spent on talking? The rules are simple: everyone should have a chance to talk and everyone would have to listen. One’s right to write is guaranteed. As Voltaire said, “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”

Blogging has its benefits. Erik Ringmar in The Blogger’s Manifesto: Free Speech and Censorship in the Age of the Internet wrote: through free and frank conversations, “people become acquainted with unfamiliar views and experiences; they discover flaws in our own arguments and strengths on the arguments of others; they learn to take others into account, to moderate their views, and to become more realistic about their application. The eventual conclusion of a public debate is always going to be far more intelligent that anything individuals can come up with on their own. Reason is a collective and not an individual achievement.”

When you blog, others may hate your guts, because your opinions could be both so powerful and intimidating or just plain repulsive to them. Obviously, you will create friends and enemies alike. Others may even attempt to stop you from exercising your right of free speech but then it’s always profoundly humiliating to be deprived of one’s constitutional rights. Some of your readers may take considerable pleasure in seeing you humiliated. On the other hand, humiliation can be a source of great creative power. So, you continue blogging to get even, and blog some more.

As a blogger, you have joined the online revolution. This is a great way to test your commitment to modern society.

As Erik Ringmar wrote, “If human rights depended on you, would you fight for them or would you rather not bother? And don’t forget, in the end bloggers are many and the censors are few. We will not be defeated. We’ll never fall silent.”


In my June 16/08 blog, I wrote about two Filipino women on the verge of deportation from Canada. Both had qualified for permanent residence after completing their two-year contract as live-in caregivers. But one was found to have terminal cancer after undergoing a required medical examination and the other was a victim of bureaucratic overzealousness (or senseless decisions of some middling Canada Immigration officers).

Juana Tejada, who had terminal cancer of the colon, died last March 8, 2009, but not in vain. She first came to see me at Our Lady of Lourdes where I volunteered my services every Friday. Together with Sister Celeste Reinhardt, S.S.N.D., we reassured Juana that she wouldn’t get deported and we would do everything we could to prevent it. But Juana would not be deterred, so she approached Gene Lara, a Toronto community activist, who linked Juana with the local community press association. Juana’s case was publicized and she became the face of a nascent movement for live-in caregiver reforms. Pura Velasco and her group of caregiver-activists, Migrante Ontario, the Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ), and Raffy Fabregas of Mamann Law Office soon picked up Juana’s cause.

But when a Filipino-Canadian couple, Mila Magno and her husband Oswald, launched a petition asking the Canadian government to grant Juana’s dying wish to become a permanent resident, the campaign snowballed into a worldwide protest against Canada’s policy that requires nannies to undergo a second medical exam when they had already been medically cleared from the start of their work contract. Canada’s reputation as a compassionate society was put under scrutiny. Eventually, Juana was allowed to stay on humanitarian grounds and realize her dying wish.

Juana left us with a lasting legacy to all caregivers. Her cause became the “Juana Tejada Law,” aptly named after her. Nannies or caregivers from now on will not be required to undergo a second medical examination when they become eligible to apply for permanent residence.

The other woman, Mylah Caban, was a helpless victim of two decisions which were bungled by Canada Immigration officers. Like Juana, Mylah was eligible for permanent residence except that she made the innocent mistake of submitting her application outside of the normal bureaucratic process. Her application for permanent residence was denied, two years of work as a nanny gone to waste. Then her application for an open work permit was also refused because she was not yet entitled according to Canada Immigration. She lost her legal status and was about to go home. It was then that I advised her to stay put because she had a solid and winning case.

It took Mylah six years to finally get her permanent residence which was granted just recently, this past December 15, 2009. On the day of the interview, the Immigration Officer could not find Mylah’s passport which was confiscated from her when she was being processed for deportation. It was finally found buried in a pile of documents that accumulated over the six-year period which included several submissions, motions, and documents filed with Canada Immigration and the Federal Court of Canada. I represented Mylah in the Federal Court and during the hearing the court agreed with us that the Immigration Officers failed to consider all the circumstances surrounding Mylah’s case, and decided to stay her removal.

It was a great relief for Mylah to realize her dream of a better future (or maybe half of her dream): from an aspiring architectural student at St. Louis University in the Philippines who took on the job of a nanny in Canada. Who knows, in the near future, she probably will go back to architecture, a field she hopes to tackle anew.

LCP Reforms

The federal government recently announced changes in the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) that will take effect in January 2010 which included the Juana Tejada Law and will give caregivers an additional year of extension to apply for permanent resident status from the current three-year window after completing their two-year contract. On its part, the Ontario provincial government has passed a law that will protect caregivers from unscrupulous employment agencies who are now prohibited to charge caregivers or nannies placement fees. The new law also provides nannies a mechanism to file complaints regarding their work conditions if they do not meet provincial work standards.

These are small gains achieved through vigorous protesting and lobbying by the caregivers with the help of their advocacy organizations, and not so much by one or two lawyers because of their obvious vested interests and some community leaders aligned with the Conservative and Liberal parties. However, it is still a long way for caregivers to achieve the real reforms they want. Not in its current set up anyway. And not until they have persuaded the government to drop the live-in requirement and the condition to work for a specific employer, which are the principal causes of their exploitation under the present program.

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