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CELEBRATING WOMEN'S COURAGE AMIDST TERROR AND FASCISM
By Innabuyog, alliance of indigenous women's organizations in the Cordillera, Philippines
When Martial Law was declared by the late President Ferdinand B. Marcos on September 21, 1972, the Filipino citizenry were stripped off of their basic freedom. Precious liberty was censored as curfews and other sorts of restrictions were enacted as laws. People were silenced and forced to take the state's fascism with a grain of salt.
As the right to life and liberty were violated, some Filipinos still persisted. Like getting out from the clinch of a quicksand, they struggled to be leaders and educators. They defied the iron fist of Martial Law as they saw the need to fight for the restoration of Human Rights. They persisted, even in small groups, to educate the people and inspire the youth to emerge. They were also the guiding light to the ones who opposed the dictatorship that were captured and sent to jail. In that period of darkness, these people were considered as human rights defenders. But to those whose lives they touched and inspired, they are now considered as Human Rights heroes.
On September 19, 2008, the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance recognized some of the heroes that the Martial Law gave birth to. As part of the commemoration of the ML declaration, The "Gawad Tanggol Karapatan" Award was granted to the men and women on Northern Luzon who fought during the time when it was most dangerous to do so. The honor was also given to a number of individuals who gave themselves unselfishly to the masses even after the martial law. 14 awards were given in total. Among those honored were the late Prosecutor Arthur Galace, the late Attorney Felix Cabading, Professor Emett Brown, Atty. Pablito Sanidad, Atty. Rene Cortes and Bishop Juan Marigza. They were commended for their courage and selflessness to those in need during the ML.
Aside from the line of great men are also women who dared to struggle during the ML. They are strong women who became mothers, sisters and friends to those suffering persecution. Regardless of the limitations and expectations of the society as women, they boldly resisted the Martial Law. The "Gawad Tanggol Karapatan" (Human Rights Defenders Award) was awarded to five resilient women.
Sisiter Esperanza Quirino of the Religious of Good Sheperd was best known as "Speedy Parang". From her speeches to her actions, 'Speedy Parang' hurried each day to service the most that she can. She served as the Human Rights coordinator in Cagayan Valley. During the times of the martial rule, she organized aid for the political prisoners as part of the Task Force Detainees in Isabela. Even with the conditions of her tuberculosis (which later consumed her life in 2006), she pushed herself, hopping from different provinces to help those in need. She gathered whatever she could, including fresh produce from their garden to the solicited goods from who ever she meets and gave them to those who needed it most. She transformed charity into a people's struggle.
As the story goes, once you see Sister Parang, look no further and you will also see Sister Shatz. Sister Anunciata Salamatin, was the buddy of Sister Parang. Together, they serviced to the widest of people. Sr. Shatz was growing old and sick but she never took medications. As she puts it, rather than spending so much money on her medication, she chose to give this money to the struggling poor. She was known as a friend to the poor. She was also an avid watchdog of human rights. She believes that justice is free for everyone.
Another HR defender from the religious sector is Sister Aurora Dulay. To the people who know her, she is known to be determined, kind but firm. Also keen on the campaign for the protection of human rights, Sr. Aurora saw fit that justice, equality and truth should be inculcated to children at an early age. She integrated the value of truth in schools as part of the curriculum and even in certain areas like Math, English and Science.
Mother Marylou Felizco's realization about the oppression in the country came when her child entered a progressive group. Witnessing her children's group propagate the words of liberty to the nation, she opened her arms to these young bloods. She and her husband gave the young activists a shelter away from the claws of martial rule. She calls these children, now grown up, as her "political children". She eventually joined several progressive groups ranging from HR organizing the women's cause. to women's sector. As she traveled in the different areas of the country, she realized that the real problem of women in the Philippines is poverty. She realized that the enemy of women is the poverty that engulfs not only a woman but her entire family as well. The plight of the Filipino women is close to Mother Fe's heart. She understood that women carried double the burden in the society. Women carry the thought of having to work harder for the survival of her family. And with the oppression, this, thought gets even more complicated. As part of the Innabuyog-Cordillera, she gave herself for the cause of women and their struggle for assertion.
Last but not the least, the "Gawad Tanggol" was granted to Petra Macli-ing. She is best known as "Mother Petra". At a young age, she was widowed and was left to raise seven children on her own in Mainit, Bontoc, Mountain Province. . Each day, she played the role of both mother and father to her children. She tended to their farm daily and worked in their store afterwards. In the late 1970,s their land, homes and livelihood were threatened with a plan to build the Chico Megadam, a World Bank funded project. Realizing the threat in the life and survival of the community, Mother Petra was one of the locals who helped organized a campaign against the construction of the dam. They formed human barricades against the large machineries. Mother Petra mobilized the women of Bontoc and fronted women in the barricades to prevent protesting locals from being killed by the Philippine Constabulary which served as the security force of the project. She is also best known for her courageous effort to lead the women to undress their blouses when the clashes were getting violent. This was her way to push away the enemies and at the same time, shame them. Mother Petra's fight against the Chico Dam reflects her true hearts as a mother. During her acceptance of the "Gawad Tanggol" award, she explained that the need to struggle for the land is a woman's big responsibility. She added that women are there to plant for food to cater to their families and that, according to her, is the most important thing. According to her, money and gold in exchange of the ancestral land which sustained generations of people cannot be eaten.
Mother Petra also went beyond her limitations. During the dictator rule, she helped mobilize the women in Bontoc to campaign for the release of political prisoners. She joined the lobbying for the release of these prisoners.
The commitment of Mother Petra to indigenous peoples' rights and in upholding the rights and dignity of women and children, gives her a life-time position of elder-adviser of Innabuyog.
Tough the Martial Law ended, these women continued to struggle. Their campaigns from human rights and the campaign against poverty continue to flourish. Be it far or near, they carry with themselves the courage to fight and protect human rights and the inspiration to give to the next generations. The "Gawad Tanggol" award will surely continue to highlight more and more daring human rights warriors. With the worsening repression of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo rule today, an undeclared ML is said to have been enacted. Today, poverty rates go high up and human rights continues to be violated. People who oppose the regime are silenced and denied of their rights and privileges. As Mother Petra puts it, educated or not, we all have the equal capacity to protect the rights that are due to each one of us. As women in this society, we also take part in the defense of our land, rights and resources. And as parting words, according to Mother Petra, we women are also the carriers and the cradle of the new generations to come. Let us be the educators. Let us be the defenders and let us be the inspirations for the future.