Art By Jomer Haban And Dominic Zulueta; Layout By Martina Cobres
Art By Jomer Haban And Dominic Zulueta; Layout By Martina Cobres.

Removing the Blindfold

With human rights being violated, voices being silenced, and lives being threatened, the fight for freedom and justice slowly walks away from hiding, calling others to draw the light.

By Jillian Cu, and Beatrice Quirante | Sunday, 28 February 2021

Amidst the pandemic, national issues against human rights have tampered the hopes of the silenced and oppressed. Driven by the continuous outcry of the public, some people have taken the forefront of the war for justice and equality, using their voices as a catalyst for change and a call for political and social reform. Despite the attacks of critics and those against their stand, they continue to take bold steps to fulfill their envisioned purpose.

The imposed community quarantine has engaged more people with news that threaten the silence of the people with the ABS-CBN shutdown and the Anti-Terror Law. However, this did not stop the people to partake in the “Mañanita” while social distancing as they continuously fight for freedom and their rights especially with the government’s slow response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Different activists of different backgrounds come together as they share their experiences becoming the voices for the people.

Rey Valmores-Salinas, Political Organizer and Bahaghari National Spokesperson, 23

“Rainbow flags will descend upon Mendiola once again, and this time, we will come in greater numbers, the likes of which have toppled dictators in the past.”

National Spokesperson of Bahaghari, Rey Valmores-Salinas, said in an interview with The Benildean that she had been a part of the national democratic organization that fights for LGBTQIA+ rights in the Philippines for over a year. She had served as a teacher at the Lumad Bakwit Schools, and the youngest member of the Board of Directors for the Center for Women's Resources (CWR). Aside from this, she has done relief operations and organized LGBTQIA+ communities in urban poor communities.

She learned about injustices when she was young, through physical and emotional violence at home due to her gender identity, and had been an advocate for LGBTQIA+ and women’s rights ever since.

“As a transgender woman, my very existence is political,” she said.

As an activist and political organizer, she experienced being profusely red-tagged, illegally arrested, and detained. She mentioned that the police brutality 51 years ago during the Stonewall riots was still mirrored at Pride March of 2020, where “the LGBTQIA+ community became galvanized in a united front against tyranny.”

Activists are not aiming for a personal reward, rather a better tomorrow, she explained.

Being one of the Pride 20, she imparted that the Pride March at Mendiola was a call for gender equality; LGBTQIA+ rights; mass testing; continuous, sufficient, and non-discriminatory aid; and a resounding call against the jeepney phase out, and the Anti-Terrorism Law. Furthermore, she described the history of the LGBTQIA+ movement as “a history of militant action against fascism and the culture of exclusion it perpetuates.”

“The people in power want to silence those who dare to criticize them at all costs—and more so when the person speaking out is, of all people, a transgender woman,” she said as she believes being against the people who make the law is a serious matter.

With a system rooted in identity politics, where even female presidents, transgender legislators and queer police officers contiuously tolerate discrimination against women and the LGBTQIA+ community are in position, according to Valmores-Salinas, gender equality will remain inexistent.

“Only in a society where there are no rich and poor, no landlords and serfs, can meaningful emancipation of the genders arise,” she emphasized.

After the Pride 20 incident, she mentioned she was overwhelmed with the financial, material, emotional, or political support from the Philippines and abroad.

Valmores-Salinas calls us to “shape history” where we must, like those who are oppressed, “dared to resist—to protest” against their oppressors. She calls us to “be organized” and join groups since despite being passionate, societal change, cannot be done alone.

For the current administration, she said they will not stand down as “no amount of fascist policies can stop the will of the people.” 

“Rainbow flags will descend upon Mendiola once again, and this time, we will come in greater numbers, the likes of which have toppled dictators in the past [...] Pasista lang kayo, bakla kami,” she concluded.

Marie Dinglasan, Internet personality

Ang ginagawa ko ay hindi isang paglaban, kundi isang pagpapahayag ng damdamin ng mamamayang nagigipit, nasasaktan, nawawalan ng karapatan, nawawalan ng kalayaan, at nagmamahal sa bansa.”

(What I do isn’t an attack, rather self-expression for those oppressed, violated, stripped of their rights, deprived of freedom, and those who love their country.)

Known popularly as “Aling Marie,” Marie Dinglasan emphasized that she does not classify herself as an activist rather, an ordinary Filipino citizen who exercises her freedom of speech. 

Walang kulay, walang pinapanigan, basta’t nasa gitna lang, basta nasa kabutihan, nandoon [ako],” she emphasized. 

(I do not identify myself with any color or side, I am simply in the middle, in favor of the good.) 

In an interview with The Benildean, she said she maximizes her right to voice out her opinions on social and political issues, and be the voice for those who are voiceless. “Ang ginagawa ko ay hindi isang paglaban, kundi isang pagpapahayag ng damdamin ng mamamayang nagigipit, nasasaktan, nawawalan ng karapatan, nawawalan ng kalayaan, at nagmamahal sa bansa,” she explained.

(What I do isn’t an attack, rather self-expression for those oppressed, violated, stripped of their rights, deprived of freedom, and those who love their country.)

Through social media, Aling Marie usually expresses her unfiltered opinions via Facebook live. She said she trusts the youth for its wit, knowledge and decisions, especially when they’re more exposed to social media. Through this, she said, they become aware and “[ang mga] puso nila [ay] nagiging rebelde” to redeem their rights. (Their hearts are triggered to fight [for their rights].)

Regarding the rejection of ABS-CBN's request for franchise renewal, she said the news must be heard, and the media must not be blamed for the news they relay to the public. 

“Karapatan naman po ng tao malaman ‘yan [...] Ang malayang pamamahayag ng ating mga taga-media trabaho nila ‘yan. [...] Wala naman maibabalitang pangit kung walang nakikitang pangit,” she emphasized. 

(We have the right to know [...] Freedom of the press is being practiced by media practitioners [...] There won’t be bad news, if there’s no bad news.)

Violence is not needed to attain unity, she said, rather understanding and guidance must be given towards others, even to critics. With this, she called for killings to be stopped where innocent lives are  taken, tortured or killed; “Lalo na po sa mga kabataan na nagiging biktima ng karahasan (especially for the youth who become victims of violence).”

Despite the call to take action, Aling Marie constantly emphasized that the youth must be careful for people’s intentions are uncertain, saying, “dahil sa pagkakataong ito, wala nang pinipili; may kasalanan man o wala, ikaw ay pararatangan, ikaw ay dadamputin, ikaw ay kakawawain.”

(Today’s a time of uncertainty; whether you have committed an offense or not, you will be accused, taken, [or] maltreated.)

As a message for the current administration, she asks President Rodrigo Duterte to prioritize Filipinos, democracy, and human rights. “Sana po bago ang ibang lahi, ang atin munang kapwa Pilipino ang inyong mahalin, at ang inyong pahalagahan,” she stated.

(Hopefully, before other races, you will love and prioritize Filipinos first.)

If under good governance, she added, “wala po kayong maririnig sa amin, makikipagtulungan pa kami,” (You will not hear from us, we would actually help,) while in recognizing faults of the administration, the people will remain unsilenced, “yan po ay karapatan ng isang mamamayan na sumusunod sa patakaran sa bansa (It is our right as citizens to follow the law).”

Elmer C. Labog, Activist-unionist at Kilusang Mayo Uno, 64

I am inspired by the many number of workers standing and fighting courageously for these beliefs even in the face of these fascist attacks. They know how to take a side step and vigorously come up for mass actions at a favorable moment.”

Being an activist for over four decades, activist-unionist of Kilusang Mayo Uno and International League of Peoples’ Struggle - Philippine Chapter Chairperson Elmer Labog started his activism with the exploitation and repression especially during the Martial Law era that made him decide to work with the downtrodden as he also realized the condition of his fellow workers. 

“I was immersed in the real life situation of workers especially in strikes, picket lines and demonstrations, these have all the more kindled my determination like a flambeau to peg my feet firmly on the side of the poor and the working class,” he stated in an interview with The Benildean.

“Workers are the creators of wealth of any given society and indeed are the makers of history. Our assertion for better wages, security of tenure, better working conditions including guarantee of health security and the respect of our rights as workers are demands that I firmly believe are reasonable and just [and] this inequality and severe exploitation is what we commit ourselves to as workers to change,” he added. 

He encountered various attacks in fighting for labor rights like “red tagging, surveillance, warrantless arrests, killings” recalling on the police and the military threatening “at least 16 workers of Coca-Cola in Sta. Rosa to act as [National People’s Army] NPA Surrenderees” last May 1. Despite the threats, this doesn’t stop Labog and other workers to continuously fight for their rights. They fought against the issuance of Labor Advisory No. 17 of Department of Labor and Employment, which was “a proposal allowing companies to reduce the wages and benefits of workers” that contradicts “labor laws and international conventions” and “suspending inspections for Labor Standard Violations, suspending negotiations and the implementation of won or decided cases in favor of the workers.”

“The strikes, demonstrations of workers, drivers and the urban poor are living proof that the struggle goes on. Active participation in various multi-sectoral mobilizations like [the] Mañanita and the [State of the Nation Address] last July 27 are living testimonies that workers are still a force to reckon with,” he said.

Labog would advocate for the youth, alongside the middle class and other well-meaning people, to stand with workers, farmers, and the urban poor. From there, they could learn about the struggles of the Philippine society to enhance knowledge and experience in both practical and theoretical aspects. He recalled the history of the youth’s bravery of fighting for our country’s freedom and democracy especially during the Marcos and Estrada eras. 

“We are once again confronted with the worst government ever elected. A dictatorship that has lied to the Filipino people, a tyrant and a militarist who owed a lot of lives and a President so submissive to foreign powers venturing on a sell out of our national patrimony and sovereignty. This situation calls on the present generation of the youth to once again roll up their sleeves and lead the fight to change the current dispensation whose interest is diametrically opposed to the interest of the majority of the Filipino people!” Labog said as his message for the youth to battle against injustices and abuse in the country.

He then left a few words for the President: “Resign now!”

Althea Marie Arcega, Music Production Student and former Panday Sining Chairperson, 20 

“We must not limit ourselves in the education we learn inside the halls of our classroom, but we must also immerse ourselves with the mass to be aroused to their social reality.”

The results of the May 2019 elections made Panday Sining CSB Chairperson Althea Marie Arcega enraged, thus joining the organization with the advice from one of her high school friends to attend educational mass organizations.

“I joined Panday Sining-CSB to end my ignorance and to become more knowledgeable about our national issues. In the process, I learned to embrace the struggle and I am now an activist which I never ideally expected myself to become,” she said in an interview with The Benildean

Being an activist for almost a year now, Arcega had also partaken in other forms of activism such as signing petitions, joining mobilizations, and “becoming a mass-leader.” Despite the challenges with her mental health and speaking about a certain campaign, her mantra “para kanino? Para sa masa (For whom? For the people)” has kept herself on her feet in fighting for her beliefs in joining for “the unity of the people with its collective effort” as they fight for social change.

For Arcega, protest is to “pressure the authority” in “upholding our rights,” a work of art that “disturbs comfortability” for people to be aware of the national issues, and a democracy that hinders the government to deceive its people with their promises.

“The only negative thing about protests is not the protesting itself but the reality where the state is doing wrong things or worse—doing nothing for the citizens,” she added.

Right to quality education is one of the advocacies Arcega firmly stands on. With her experience of having to stop going to school for a year, she didn’t want others to experience the same situation given that education is becoming a privilege due to its inaccessibility to students especially to those in the lower class. 

Moreover, the continuous increase of tuition and miscellaneous fees can also hinder students, “the State passed the responsibility to private sectors in providing education, which in this current situation, the majority of our schools are being commercialized. Education is a right and we must be free in achieving our dreams, not to be capitalized.”

Arcega explained that using social media platforms is not simply about raising awareness but rather, improving on its grounds wherein discussions are held for people to have a better understanding on the goals of a certain advocacy one aims to attain.

“We must not stop from [using social media platforms] because it does not reach the majority of the population and raising awareness is just the tip of the iceberg,” she said. Other means of promoting an advocacy is through “[joining] an organization, [learning] to associate an advocacy on a political scale, then [creating] campaigns and [educating the] people,” she added. 

Arcega criticized the current administration for the false promises and failed solutions in protecting the rights and welfare of the Filipinos. She then sought the President to hear the voices of his people in what they need for the country’s betterment. 

“Sa huling pagkakataon, [tugunan] mo ang aming [panawagan na] libreng mass testing, karapatan sa edukasyon, seguridad sa trabaho at pagpapamahagi ng ayuda, hindi ang Anti-Terrorism Law na lalabag sa karapatan pantao (For the last time, listen to our pleas for free mass testing, for rights on education, for assistance in labor employment rather than on the Anti-Terrorism Law that violates human rights).”

Marielle Lilyanna P. Rugas, College Student and Gabriela Youth National Chairperson, 21

“We should not just aspire for the dictator to fall. We should be daring enough to build a society truly emancipated from the domination of the few.”

National Chairperson of Gabriela Youth Marielle Rugas started being a part of Gabriela Youth, the national democratic mass organization for young women, during her freshman year in the University of the Philippines Manila. At the start of her current five-year journey as an activist, she had an immersion with the fisherfolks from Balibago, Laguna and with Lumads, who were at the time, facing the loss of their three Manobo leaders in the Lianga massacre.

Rugas mentioned, in an interview with The Benildean, that the passion for fighting for women’s rights is deeply rooted in being able to witness the struggles and plights of women from communities through immersions. Gabriela Youth, according to her, intends to focus more on the offline approach such as at communities and schools in maximizing their online and offline platforms for their advocacy efforts. 

Among their projects is the “Sexual Harassment Out Now” or “SHOut Now” Campaign along with their “speaking out sessions” and case handling, whereas she mentioned, aimed to create “a safe space for young women to speak up.” Rugas added that the organization had also been active in lobbying efforts, particularly during the “very aggressive” railroading of the Congress on the mandatory ROTC program for SHS. Likewise, she shared she had been a part of Basic Masses Integration programs Tulong Eskwela or the “annual donation drive for school-aged kids” and Maselang Regalo or “hygiene kits for women” since her freshman year.

“These donation drives are not dole out projects to communities but rather to encourage students like me to go to communities in order to understand and grasp the real situation of the marginalized,” she added. 

In 2015, Rugas took part in their campaign "Crop top day,” grounded on the slogan "Tela lang ng damit ang pwedeng magkulang, hindi badyet sa edukasyon.” 

“Fighting for our rights isn't an individual task but rather a collective effort,” Rugas highlighted.  In the Philippines, Gabriela Youth is included under the core team for One Billion Rising PH and International Working Women's Day where, she stated, alliance work and networking are done with other organizations. They also commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and International Human Rights Day, wherein during these events they are also “organizing activities for the 16 days of activism.”

Risks of being red-tagged, vilified, and “targeted of harassment, surveillance and trumped-up charges” come with activsim, yet, she said, it is outweighed by the support from mothers, workers, the marginalized, and the youth along with the privilege to be part of the movement for radical change. Moreover, she said that people in power are threatened by those who resist the “status quo,” hence, they label protests as negative. 

“There should not be any negative side to protests. Because protests, in essence, are done for radical changes,” she added.

Furthermore, she highlighted that the youth are now in their prime years, they have the “time, energy and resources to contribute to revolutionary changes” and be at the forefront of the fight for peace and justice. 

As Rugas calls upon the participation of the youth, she concluded: “We should not just aspire for the dictator to fall. We should be daring enough to build a society truly emancipated from the domination of the few.”

Although these brave individuals differ in some of their advocacies and experiences on protesting, they share a common goal of using their positions and rights to not only be heard, but to take action and responsibility toward a better country. 

Despite receiving negative criticisms and threats that risk their lives, they never stayed silent. As they pour their hearts out in chanting for change, they continuously fight for freedom and equality for their fellowmen.

This article is also published in The Benildean Volume 6 Issue No. 3: Translate.

Last updated: Sunday, 28 February 2021