NEW YORK,USA- President Benigno S. Aquino was caught off guard during his speech at Columbia University when a Filipino-American activist stood up and interrupted him.
Aquino was unaware of the presence of the members from Anakbayan New Jersey, New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP), and Gabriela New York.
Protesters also unfolded their banners with contents such as, “Oust Aquino, Pork Barrel King” and “End Impunity. Stop the Killings.”
In a statement from BAYAN USA, Anakbayan New Jersey member, Joelle Lingat, stood up and challenged Aquino on his human rights track record, but she later was escorted out of the venue by New York City police while shouting ‘No Justice, No Peace, Stop the killings in the Philippines.’
Lingat questioned Pnoy on the pork barrel scandal, Typhoon Haiyan, and human rights abuses treated with impunity.
According to Lingat, “I have been to Hacienda Luisita. I have seen first hand the continuing plight of the farmworkers, the families of the laborers of those who were massacred for wanting to earn more than 9 pesos a day. It’s unbelievable to me that this can happen on the piece of property owned by the President’s family.”
On a press release by BayanUSA, Lingat related Aquino’s reaction prior to her being escorted by NY police.
“What’s even more unbelievable was Aquino’s facial reaction to my question on Hacienda Luisita. Not only did he not answer, he closed his eyes and shook his head.“
She also added, “One audience member even told me I should be ashamed of myself. But it is Aquino who should be ashamed for dodging accountability over the massive loss of human life in his own family’s estate.”
It was reported on GMA News that Columbia University president Lee Bollinger apologized to Aquino and said that although they value freedom of speech in the US, it wasn’t right to interrupt an academic forum that way.
It was confirmed by Yves Nibungco, national chairperson for Anakbayan USA, that the activists present during President Aquino’s speech were not students of Columbia University. It was not, however, disclosed how the activists were able to find their way in since only students from the institution were allowed to register.
Meanwhile, it was also reported by BAYANUSA that even after Pnoy left the university, protesters continued to rally outside the vicinity.