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Traveling Far and Wide, Soaring Above the Storms

“When we overthrew the dictator, didn’t we promise never to allow our freedom to be taken from us again? But, here we are again in the midst of the shameless abuse of powers wanting to eliminate the very basics of our laws. This is not the leadership we deserved. This is not the legacy I wanted for the future generation. Thus, in their name and being a Filipino, I opposed those corrupt members of Congress wanting to change our Constitution through Constitutional Assembly. And I’m calling you and all the Filipinos to protest. The real power of our democracy lies in you. Never allow again the ways of the dictator." -former President Corazon Aquino.

Corazon Aquino, the first woman president of the Philippines and Asia passed away August 1st after her long battle against cancer. Cory Aquino was instrumental in ousting the two decade Marcos dictatorship leading the People Power Revolution in 1986. Her last letter dated June 10, 2009 called for the Filipino people to defend their freedom and protest President Arroyo’s bid to stay in power beyond her term in 2010 through an unconstitutional change. Millions of Filipinos nationwide gave their final respect to this woman who consistently stood her ground in fighting tyranny and dictatorship up to the very end.

Memories of War and Violence

My eyes fill with tears as I witness the final rest of this icon of democracy. My thoughts fly back to my own beloved 83 year old Nanay (Mother) who is living in our home place in Mindanao. A deep nostalgic feeling of my childhood and teenage years fills my heart against the backdrop of a dangerous world of war and poverty.

My first nineteen years were lived in Mindanao, a war-torn community where killings and bombings became a natural phenomenon everyday of our lives. I was five years old then when Martial Law was declared in 1972. As a little girl of 6 I remember that whenever we heard news of Muslims attacks in the night I would constantly shake from nervousness and Tatay (Father) had to wrap me in a blanket just to keep me warm and stop me from shaking. Soon, I grew up witnessing killings right in front of me. Guiamel M. Alim, Executive Director of Kadtuntaya Foundation estimates 150,000-200,000 lives were loss from 1972-1975 (The Bangsa Moro Struggle for Self-Determination). Eventually, we were used to the sounds of exchanging bullets and bomb explosions and news of killings and number of body bags returning home from the battlefields.

Love in War and Survival Against Poverty

I thought about Nanay and how she managed to take care of us, protect us and love us during those times of poverty and war. When I was a child, Nanay shared her and Tatay’s story of struggle and hardship: when they had no food to eat, when they had to go around the neighborhood asking for a ganta of rice, when no relatives would lend them money to buy milk for us, and when Nanay was paralyzed giving birth to my elder brother and there was no money to buy her medicine.

Until my primary grades, it was Tatay who lulled me to sleep. He sung songs of poverty, songs of friendships and songs of survival. He told me stories of how he and Nanay struggled to support our family and how he worked in Guam, USA as a driver at the very young age of twenty only to return to the Philippines with no money. Both of them told us stories of how they survived the Second World War, terrorized by the Japanese occupation in the Philippines: the killings of babies and children, the raping of women and young girls and the persecution of Filipino men.

I grew up with their stories of poverty, exploitation and survival. These stories and my own experience of war made me understand only too well what poverty is all about. All my life I remember Tatay and Nanay working hard day and night at the wharf. By the age of six, Nanay woke me up as early as three in the morning to help her sell coffee, eggs, bread and other food stuffs for the workers and passengers in the port. My elder brother as young as he was, already worked as a laborer in the wharf.

Every Filipino parent aspires to send their children to college as the key for a better life. This was in the heart of Tatay and Nanay even if it meant separating from their children and facing the humiliation of borrowing money from their exploitive employers. I remember my Nanay crying telling me that she was not able to borrow money from Tatay’s employer for my transportation and tuition fees. Tatay’s employer yelled and insulted her in front of others telling her how ambitious she and Tatay were to send us to college in distant universities while they survived through borrowing. I never forgot that and I promised myself and Nanay to graduate college and show those who would exploit that we have rights and we can conduct ourselves with dignity even in the midst of poverty.

My college life was a continual struggle for survival against poverty and hunger. There were times I skipped meals because my allowance was very limited. During school awards, my classmates lent me clothes and in my travel course requirements my classmates contributed to my expenses. It was hard but it never came into my mind to quit school.

The Road Less Traveled By

How many stories like mine are repeated as the pages of history unfold? The story of poverty and war is a continuing ordeal for the majority of the Filipinos. We are considered one of the richest countries in the world in terms of our natural resources. We have extensive deposits of gold, nickel, silver, copper, lead and chromium. Our marine biodiversity is considered one of the richest in the world which could feed the whole population and export to other countries. As an agricultural and rice producing country, the Philippines’ population can be supported ten times fold. One wonders why there is such disparity.

It is this glaring contrast of natural wealth and poverty under the present administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The Philippines ranked as the most corrupt among thirteen nations in Asia by Political & Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC).

There are 7.7 million Filipinos that go hungry everyday unable to eat at least three times a day. Among the 92 million Filipinos, 52% are poor and 4 million children are malnourished. The Philippines rank as one of the top 10 Asian countries with the highest rate of malnutrition.

Why do we suffer this way? Why do seven out of ten Filipinos die without access to medical care? Why do women have to go overseas and take care of other children while leaving their own?”

The movement for social change is consistently and resolutely fought amid political persecution. Non-profit and grassroots organizations and church institutions provide assistance to women to rise above poverty and participate actively in the pursuit of social change. International support is also swelling in support of the women’s and people’s movement. Political killings were exposed internationally with the help of international churches, members of US Congress, Filipino International Solidarity networks and international human rights organizations.

Women’s participation in social change is gaining grounds everyday. The two day protest march in July 26- 27 in Panay, reflected the majority of peasant and urban poor women. They marched in protest against the President’s State of the Nation Address reflecting the sentiments of the Filipino people against the present regime. The hundred of thousands Filipino women who joined the funeral march of the late President Cory Aquino in August 5 also symbolizes the desire for a better president other than President Gloria Macapagal –Arroyo.

I strongly believe that we can heal our ailing economy and corrupt political system and free ourselves from the paradigm of globalization:

• We have the right to nationalize our basic industries and divest from multinational and big business control.
• We have the right to have genuine land reform for food security rather than converting our lands to subdivisions and bio-fuel plantations.
• We have the right to defend our Constitutions that provide protection against 100% foreign ownership of our lands, business and social services.
• We have the right to defend our Constitution from tyranny and dictatorship and have a government of and for the Filipino people not just of the ruling elite and foreign interests.

I am traveling far and wide, rising and falling, with tears and laughter, alone and in groups soaring above the storms of state powers, where violence and bullets silence those who work for social justice. One of the many fallen travelers was my first husband who had been missing for over twenty years, a casualty of the remnants of Martial rule. Still, under the Arroyo government, the climate of terror and impunity still reigns in her undeclared Martial ruled where political killings number over a thousand and hundreds of enforced disappearances.

I have survived several attempts in my life; the recent was in November 2007. My life as an activist is always under threat but my conviction to serve the women and children and the Filipino people remains steadfast. Working full time in activism is a commitment with no monetary compensation and with limited financial resources. I try to survive and hold on to the principles of serving but coping with the limited resources is a daily struggle.

When people suffer so much, the tendency is to fight back and seek solutions. My experiences taught me how to fight back. Our history as a Filipino people taught me to find the right way and attempt to heal the disparities that create misery in life. Cory Aquino reminds me that the “real power of our democracy lies in the people”. And so, the ultimate hope for us Filipino people is ourselves, holding on to the belief that we as a people can make social change even in the most dark years of our history.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.

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