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VIDEO | Activists interrupt PNoy's speech in Columbia University

Bayan-USA members unfurl a streamer in front of the auditorium as President Aquino delivers a speech in Columbia University. Photo from BAYAN USA
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA - Filipino-American activists early Wednesday (Tuesday in the United States) interrupted President Benigno Aquino III as he was making a speech at the Columbia University, BAYAN USA said in a press release.

Members of Anakbayan New Jersey, Gabriela New York, and New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP) raised questions about the pork barrel scandal, human rights violations, and relief efforts after supertyphoon Yolanda during Aquino’s speaking engagement at the Low Memorial Library.

Protesters unfurled a banner which read “Oust Aquino, Pork Barrel King” near the stage. Another banner read “End Impunity. Stop the Killings.”

BAYAN USA members held a simultaneous rally in the main courtyard of the school on “the dominance of US interests over Philippine economic and political spheres stunting Philippine economic growth and deepening poverty in the country.”

According to the press release, Aquino was “visibly caught off-guard.”

Joelle Lingat of Anakbayan New Jersey was escorted out of the venue by New York City police after she got up and challenged Aquino on his human rights track record.

She said she found the President’s reaction “unbelievable” when she asked him about Hacienda Luisita.

“Not only did he not answer, he closed his eyes and shook his head,” the press release quoted her as saying.

She added that a member of the audience told her she should be ashamed of herself.

“It is Aquino who should be ashamed for dodging accountability over the massive loss of human life in his own family’s estate. I have been to Hacienda Luisita. I have seen firsthand the continuing plight of the farm workers, the families of the laborers of those who were massacred for wanting to earn more than nine pesos a day. It's unbelievable to me that this can happen on the piece of property owned by the President's family,” Lingat said.

November 16 this year marks the tenth anniversary of the Hacienda Luisita Massacre, where farm workers on strike were fired at by government troops who were securing the Cojuangco-owned estate. According to Luisita Watch, seven were killed, while hundreds were injured and unlawfully arrested.

In October last year, the Department of Agrarian Reform finished distributing certificates of land ownership to 5,718 farm worker-beneficiaries in the estate.

Meanwhile, Jenab-i Pareha of NYCHRP also called out Aquino for standing by the Disbursement Acceleration Program while “public funds for disaster relief and preparedness were slashed.”

Video from Elton Lugay, courtesy of BAYAN USA