(16) 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: Women’s Rights are Human Rights

Contact: Donna Denina

Vice Chair Mass Campaigns

Pinay sa Seattle – Gabriela USA


Women’s Rights are Human Rights

On International Human Rights Day, and the conclusion of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign, GABRIELA-USA recognizes that a life free of violence is a human right. For over 300 years, women of the Philippines have had a long-standing struggle to fight against foreign domination and their continued oppression imposed upon them because of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucratic capitalism, which shape the patriarchal system upheld by the structures of Philippine society. Gabriela Silang, a stark heroine in our people’s history and namesake for the women who continue to arouse, mobilize and organize women into a political force, led an army of 6,000 men in the most successful revolt against Spanish colonization. It is because of this kind of fervent militancy that the women of the Philippines banded together during the Marcos dictatorship to create the largest and most militant alliance of women today, GABRIELA.


GABRIELA USA (GAB USA for short) is the first overseas chapter of GABRIELA, to continue to advocate and defend the rights of Filipinas worldwide, with member organizations reaching across both coasts of the U.S. The women of GAB USA work tirelessly to address issues that impact women including landlessness, US militarization, health rights, foreign domination, anti-people development projects , violence against women and children, prostitution, trafficking, migration, political repression and so much more. In times of war and the ongoing economic crisis, these issues have the greater impact on the infringement of our basic human rights.


Today, Dec. 10th, the 62nd anniversary for the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, we call on all peace loving people to continue to fight for the rights of women. It is our firm belief that in order to resolve the crisis of

women, we must resolve the 3 root problems of the Philippines. Therefore, the struggle of women is integral to the struggle of the Filipino people overall for liberation.

On this day, President Benigno Aquino ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) to witdraw all trumped up charges against the 43 health workers who were unjustly arrested, detained and tortured for more than 10 months. However, waiting until International Human Rights Day to make such a declaration is a testament to the people’s movement to put national and international pressure on the Philippine government, and not necessarily a sign of the President’s good will. Although we welcome and accept his announcement in commemoration of

International Human Rights Day, we will continue to denounce all human rights abuses that continue under his Presidency.

While human rights violations continue in the Philippines and around the world, the women of GAB USA, including Pinay sa Seattle, FiRE New York, Sigaw Los Angeles, Babae San Francisco, and the newest addition to the alliance,

Samaka (Samahan ng Kababaihan), we will defend and fight for our rights for the advancement of the militant women’s movement of the Philippines. Each region will participate in local Human Rights Day actions and join the international movement to uphold the 30 articles of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.


(15) 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: Profile of a Pinay Fighting for her rights

Day 15 of 16-day IDEVAW Campaign…

Profile of a SAMAKA (Samahan ng Kababaihan) Nanay: Bernadette Herrera
By:Dianne Chui, Babae-SF
Bernadette Herrera arrived in the United States 10 years ago. She has 3 children, the eldest currently serving in the US Navy and the younger two are active students at Stanford University. She works at the Filipino Community Center as a Worker’s Rights Program Coordinator where she educates and supports disenfranchised workers and advocates for their welfare. She has also worked to develop a new organization known as Samahan ng Kababaihan (SAMAKA), a safe space for older Filipina mothers and working women to gather and learn about their rights and build community through activism and social activities.

Her story begins in the Philippines, her homeland, a country of her ancestors who have struggled and endured through the third world history of struggle and strife.  As a young student leader, she protested against rising tuition fees and led countless demonstrations. She expressed the voice for peasants who lost the land they farmed that grew the nation’s crops. She fought for teachers who didn’t have enough money to eat. To further serve her community, she became a local political figure in Angeles City as a result of a grassroots campaign that was strengthened by her involvement in the student community. She has always played the role of the main breadwinner in her family, sending several of her nieces and nephews to school. As the main provider, she knew her income wasn’t enough, so she immigrated to the United States. She knew what she had to do. Undocumented for three years, she worked from eight in the morning to six in the evening cleaning houses, then on to another relentless seven to seven a.m. schedule caring for patients in a hospice. Despite being an educated professional, this labor was her only alternative. Successfully, with her earnings she petitioned her kids and raised them as a single mother.

Bernadette’s life tells the story of hundreds of thousands of other migrants – the story of hard work, integrity, and the fighting spirit for a just, fulfilling existence. Unwavering in her convictions, she has succeeded in giving her kids the life she has always dreamed of. She has become a positive role model, community activist, and endearing mother for others to emulate.

Woman’s Work (excerpt / work in progress)
Inspired by a Pinay Stories interview with Bernadette Herrera
By: Jocelyn Deona de Leon, Babae-SF

It is woman’s work to worry
About better.

Because you, government
Do not provide.

You must have forgotten
Where we come from
Whilst we have not.

Where we come from
is barangay
is family
is home

is strength

in struggle

equals resilience

Is every reason why you should think twice
Before disfranchising the people whose
backs you have walked upon.

The reality is
though you have forgotten
who we are,

We have not.

We are
Latin America
the faces of bodies of spirits oppressed
by imperialist wars of conquest and economic plunder.

And despite what you believe,
these spirits of bodies of faces impoverished
are still     here.

We are the women of people
who still rise

and birth,
to raise,
and carry,
to uplift, and
fight (the good fight)

as a reminder
that you are accountable.

And though you may forget
as often you have through all
these centuries

We will continue to remember
that a women’s worth does not
equate to her remittances

nor the

unwanted permittances
your military men take
upon us.

We are peacemakers
nation builders
freedom fighters
and organizers

who will not settle for less-
It is a woman’s work.

We will not worry if it will get better.

It must.

And we will be here
(as we always have)

When it does.

(14) 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: Brave Enough to Be Ourselves

“Brave Enough to Be Ourselves”

By Pi and Zee

We are born into this world

Free, so to speak

Free from self-consciousness

Not yet bound

By restrictions,

Expectations on who to love or

Predetermined definitions of who we are

When we, ourselves, are on the road to discovering

In search of that which might not be definable

Because one awakening leads to another

Tangling into the intricacies of you and me

Caught up in a web

You, me, we

We are all bound together

Seemingly different,

Some driven by fear

To hate that which they do not understand

If only they could see

Love is our common denominator

We are only human after all

Though we should never forget our history

Because life comes with its privileges

Let us undo the assumptions,

The prejudice

Let us learn to walk in each other’s shoes

To see the world from different eyes

Open our horizons

Let us open our hearts and begin to listen

We are so much more than what they say a “boy” or “girl” ought to be

We express ourselves so much more broadly than

Any boxes set for us

Our true selves will break free of society’s cages

And in this world

Though others may try to contain our love

And who we can and cannot love

Repression breeds resistance

Time and again we will defy any barriers imposed on us

Because love knows no bounds

We are you and you are us

We are your mothers, your fathers

Your sisters, your brothers

Your friends, your neighbors

The workers all around you

You are not alone

When the rain falls

it doesn’t fall on one person’s house

Your pain is our pain

But it doesn’t get better unless we work together

To build a new society

One where we learn to love ourselves and others for who we are

Differences are what make us special and unique

No more separate but equal

No more silencing our voices

The truth will set us free

Though we should all have the right to love

And to be ourselves

We have to fight for that right

Reclaim the beautiful richness of our identities

Because we come in all shapes, sizes, and shades

Let us not be used to wage their unjust wars upon our own

Let us fight alongside each other

In this society of profit over people

To invert the triangle

And take back our humanity

(12) 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: The Exploitation of Migrant Filipinas and the Struggle for Justice

The Exploitation of Migrant Filipinas and the Struggle for Justice
Day 12 of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

Contact: Terrie Cervas
Vice Chair of Finance – GABRIELA USA

Coordinator for Mass Campaigns – Sisters of GABRIELA, Awaken! (SiGAw!)
(213) 537-8278


Members of SiGAw - GAB USA mobilize to oppose anti-immigrant legislation, May 1, 2010

Imagine 2,500 Filipinos leaving the Philippines every day. A country with a population of 92 million, the Philippines has become the largest exporter of labor in the world. The United States is home to the largest group of Filipinos outside of the Philippines with four million Filipinos residing here, of which 24% are undocumented (source “Ating Kalagayan: The Social and Economic Profile of U.S. Filipinos”).

How do we explain this massive migration? The answer lies in the socio-economic conditions of the Philippines. In a country where no genuine land reform exists to allow for the peasants to survive on the land they grew up on, they leave in droves to search for employment in the cities. However, because of government policies that do not build and develop national industries, the economy can’t generate the jobs necessary to employ the thousands who graduated with college and university degrees in various fields including medicine, engineering, and teaching. Hence, they are forced to migrate abroad in search of employment.

Dependent on multi-national corporations for imports of pricey finished goods in exchange for its cheap raw materials, the trade imbalance and payment deficits keep growing. The intervention of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (IMF-WB) adds to the country’s looming debt and financial difficulties. The Marcos dictatorship created the Labor Export Program (LEP) under the guise of easing the unemployment problem, fixing the debt and trade deficits. However, until now, the LEP is just another scheme to perpetuate an unjust social system that uses Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) for their remittances, which keep the country from complete collapse. Keeping its people out of the country helps prevent social unrest from developing from within.

After being hit with a load of expensive fees from employment agencies and high interest loans while in the Philippines, OFWs are shipped out to other countries where they are vulnerable to greater abuse and exploitation due to inadequate laws favoring their employers over their basic human rights. Acts of violence in the forms of murder and rape are commonly committed against women compatriots.

Alliances such as GABRIELA USA were formed to arouse, organize, and mobilize overseas compatriots to fight for their rights and welfare and to participate in the movement for social change in the Philippines. We hold the banner of the national democratic movement in the Philippines high for all Filipinos across the globe. On the twelfth day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence
GABRIELA USA honors all migrant working women by highlighting excerpts of interviews of undocumented Filipinas in their everyday struggles. Names have been changed to protect their identities and privacy.

Interview of Nanay Beng

When I came here it was just plain. It was just my clothes. I wasn’t sure even when I come here if I would be with my husband because he was playing with someone. I asked him if he still wanted me. I think I was only carrying USD$150. That was from my two brothers. When I reached immigration, they didn’t even ask me. I came on a business B1B2 visa.

My plan was to look for greener pastures and follow my husband. We found the jobs but we’re not happy, we’re starting to file the petition with the father and then he passed away. Visa expired after 5 yrs. When my husband died and employer died, the immigration office wanted $250 to file and the sponsorship from employer. The lawyer said I could still file but I told him the employer died. It’s hard because they won’t accept you if you say you don’t have green card. They have to ask you, “are you a citizen, do you have a green card?” If they’re going to hire you illegally they’re going to fine you. It’s not acceptable to the employer. It’s really hard. That’s why Filipinos become caregivers if they don’t have papers because they don’t ask for papers.

When my mom died, I couldn’t go to the Philippines because when my husband died, I used all my money to take care of my husband’s funeral. I cried a lot and it was painful and hurting. I left behind two sons. Other family always takes care of them. Whatever I have–$20–I put money to them. I didn’t see them for 17 years. When I left the Philippines [in] 1992 the second was 5 years old. Now eldest has a child now.

Very sad about this life. I’m tired of working like this. I’m also with the agencies, but I pick the employer that pays me. Agencies pay in 2-3 weeks, depends on the case of the patient. Some agencies pay the caregivers. So every time I have my work I get money.

My responsibility is work, cook, take care of my kids, go to doctor’s appointment. Sometimes I can’t do all anymore. It’s so tiring. It’s kind of hard; the responsibility of a single mother is hard. I work hard. Sunday up to five up to Wed to five. I was given a full-time job but I gave up 2 days because children are still in school. Three days isn’t really good but I’m trying my best to adjust to this kind of life.

Financially it’s not enough. When you have a family and you’re raising children and somebody in school, you have to figure out what their needs are in school. Mostly low-income people earn $2000, [which] is really ok. But now, with three days I’m only earning $1200-1500. I came here with my papers. This is my passport. I show them all. Then it gets approved. We’re safe with the food but sometimes we’re tight because if I get $1500 the food stamp gets low. My cable was cut off.

The rental here is $800. I spoke to the owner and sometimes I pay him half and he’s ok. He doesn’t say nothing. But it’s not yet enough. I have a problem with my teeth. Health care givers don’t have insurance. Other caregivers go to free clinic.

For now it makes me worried. But what can I do? I don’t know what to do. I just keep it going, whatever is there and keep working. It’s really hard to find a job. You can’t find a job.

I want to help other women. But help me first.

Interview of Nanay Rosie

I think husbands who lost their jobs and cannot provide any–it’s very devastating to them, being a man. So he looked for job everywhere here. At that time we had a problem with the economy here in California. So his cousin invited him in Chicago to have a business because he used to be a businessman. And so he went there, until he comes here every 3 months, 4 months later, every 6 months. Until he finally settled his job there with his business, until…Maybe he also found a woman, I don’t know. But uh, it’s my son who really made me strong to stand on my own two feet. Because I don’t have anybody to turn to, financially. You know, I had money from the Middle East, but we used it for business. It didn’t materialize. Our partner just left us. So we lost everything, everything–motel, apartments. We lost everything. We cannot sell because it’s not in the corporation.

I wanna go back home. My number one problem was, “When will I see them again?” My family–sisters, brothers, my mom, who was sick at that time. So I cried mostly everyday.

Oh my god. My chest was so heavy. Because first thing, when you didn’t have the paper and somebody is roaming around here like the police. I don’t go out. We moved from one place to another. When the police would come to you, I get nervous. All those [are] the effect of illegal stay here. But when I got it, as if the knife get out from my chest and you know, I was so happy. I don’t know, I spent so much. The lawyer let me pay like $12,000– one half first and then every month.

My first memories of violence…When I first started at work as a nurse, I still had a problem with pronouncing the words right. And when I’m talking to the doctor they will say, “Are you Korean? Filipino? I don’t understand you.” And then they will do like that, they will bagsak the telephone. They will just hang on me. And then I had to call because I have to get an order. And then she said, “Is there any RN I can speak with, with better pronunciation? I don’t really understand you.” And then I cry. I go to the bathroom and cry.

And then my second day of working was that, there was a guy who was encircling me. Because our apartment is just near the hospital and so you just cross the street. I didn’t know. Because what I really know about America, is it’s like gold. Nobody will snatch you or snatch your bag or hold up you and everything. But I have so many, like 10 experiences [of getting mugged]. The other one was two guys were trying to get me. I was still young those times. I was 38 to 39. My son was months old and my husband is supposed to come and pick me up, even though it’s just across. And then here comes two guys, trying to get me into their car. And what I did, when I had a chance to run, to go back to my work, I did it. And early in the morning I go visit someone. Somebody poked a gun here [points to her temple].

Nanay Beng and Nanay Rosie’s stories reflect the hardships and exploitative conditions that migrant OFWs face everyday. We must continue to oppose the anti-migrant and worker policies created by imperialist countries. GABRIELA USA recently joined the 3rd International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (iamr3.wordpress.com) to oppose the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), which attempts to force labor export policies on other countries around the globe. Migrants continue to be exploited by such policies, thus we must unite with our sisters and brothers for justice!

Legalization for All!!
Swift Reunification of Families Now!!
End Labor Export Policies! Oppose the GFMD!!

Sisters of Gabriela, Awaken! (SiGAw) is an organization serving Filipinas in the Los Angeles community. We strive to build a strong Filipina women’s mass movement, recognizing that the problems of the Filipina diaspora are linked to the root problems of the Philippines. SiGAw addresses the rights and welfare of women through education, organizing, campaigns, and cultural work.

SiGAw is a member organization of GABRIELA-USA, an overseas chapter of GABRIELA (General Assembly Binding Women for Reforms, Integrity, Equality, Leadership, and Action). GABRIELA is the largest and most mlitant women’s alliance that is working for genuine democracy and freedom in the Philippines.

SiGAw is an LGBTIQ-(Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer/Questioning) friendly organization that is inclusive of gender-non comforming people of Philippine descent.

SiGAw is also a member organization of BAYAN-USA.

(11) 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: Low Wage Hotel Workers

Contact: Terrie Cervas
Vice Chair of Finance – GABRIELA USA
Coordinator for Mass Campaigns – Sisters of GABRIELA, Awaken! (SiGAw!)
(213) 537-8278

“Luxury and Profits for a Few Comes at the

High Price of Injury and Low Wages for Hotel Workers”

Day 13 of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

Hyatt hotel house keepers

Major hotels boast luxurious, well-kept rooms with various amenities, but what the hotel industry hides is the back-breaking pace and oppressive working conditions that hotel workers toil under.  During Day 13 of GABRIELA-USA’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, GABRIELA-USA organizations highlight women hotel housekeepers in Long Beach, California, and the larger national hotel workers campaign.

Hotel franchises continuously attempt to boost up their profits, but at the expense of the workers, who keep these businesses running.  Hotel workers have higher injury rates than other service workers, according to an article in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. A major cause for such injuries is the fact that hotel workers are forced to do many tasks within an unrealistic time schedule.

Since almost all hotel housekeepers are women, mostly women of color and from immigrant communities, those advocating for women’s rights and protection should take note of the fact that housekeeping work is rated as the most dangerous job.  Hotel housekeepers are pressured with quotas to clean at least 15 rooms or more per day, which includes strenuous work, such as repeatedly lifting heavy mattresses.

“Cleaning between 25 and 30 rooms a day demands working fast and this is how I hurt my body.  I am permanently injured in my lower back and shoulder and I can no longer work as a housekeeper.  I have pain every day,” stated Celia Alvarez, a Room Attendant who worked at a non-union Hyatt Regency in Long Beach for 19 years before becoming permanently injured (source: UNITEHERE! Study summary sheet).

Sprains, strains, back and shoulder injuries, and arm and wrist pain are regularly reported by housekeepers as they try to keep up with their intense schedules. Repeatedly getting injured on the job puts these workers at risk for permanent disability and pain. Filipina hotel housekeeper Nenita Ibes shares her story below, in a profile by Balitang America.


In addition to unsafe working conditions, hotel and food service workers are among the lowest paid of the economy.  A fact sheet made by Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community reported that “41% of hotel workers in Long Beach relied on some form of public assistance in order to meet their basic needs and more than one in five held a second job, working an average of 65 hours per week.”

Low wages and unsafe working conditions compelled housekeepers and other hotel workers to organize themselves and fight back.  Hyatt hotel is amongst the worst employers of hotel workers, with the highest injury rate of housekeepers, and with workers falling victim to reduced benefits or job elimination.  Currently there is a national Hyatt campaign, and 3,500 Hyatt workers filed complaints with Occupation Health and Safety Administration against 12 Hyatt Hotels.  In Long Beach, the hotel workers of the Hyatt hotel have continuously picketed and gained community support.  The struggle goes beyond Long Beach, with other Hyatt hotel workers clamoring for their rights in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Honolulu, San Antonio, Chicago, and Indianapolis.

GABRIELA-USA calls on community members to support the hotel workers in their call for living wages and safe working conditions.  The hotel workers asks community members to support them by boycotting the Hyatt and Hilton Long Beach and agreeing not to eat, meet, or sleep at these hotels and others with labor disputes.  We support the workers call for their unionization, in order to guarantee safer working conditions, in the form of reasonable workloads, needed equipment, and fair wages.

In these days of reflection on gender violence, we must not forget the violence inflicted by employers on those working to make a living.  Let’s stand in solidarity until all peoples can work under humane conditions and live in dignity.

Living Wages Now!
Safe Working Conditions Now!

Human Need Not Corporate Greed!

Workers of the World Unite!


For more information on the campaign of the hotel workers visit:

A complete boycott list of hotels can be found at: http://hotelworkersrising.org/HotelGuide/boycott_list.php.

For information on the campaign of the hotel workers in the Long Beach area and upcoming actions, please contact:

Nikole Cababa at ncababa@gmail.com


For more background information on the issues of Hotel Workers, please download the following articles:

Poverty Jobs in Hotel Industry

2010 Hotel Injury Study Fact Sheet

Growing Up In Need

The Great Recession and Poverty in Long Beach

Why Housekeeping is Dangerous Work

(10) 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: The Coming of Out

For today’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign , we are featuring lolan buhain sevilla‘s thoughts on political community work, liberation across the queer-spectrum, and challenging you to be a better straight ally.

The Coming of Out
lolan buhain sevilla

Coming out. Ideally, it’s a process that ends with the liberation of one’s queer self within the context of their everyday life. Or does it? End, that is? As I sit here writing this, I’m struggling with how to go about exploring the complexity of the coming out process, the layers of lesson and of loss, and the loving in-between. The difficulty lay in the fact that for as many LGBTQ people there are in the world, you have as many experiences for coming out.

My own coming out process didn’t end with some culminating experience where I suddenly heard harps, and lived life happily ever as “a gay.” Yes, I was absolutely liberated, but liberation looked more like the stepping into an awareness and responsibility to struggle through hard moments, rather than the end-all be-all defining moment of queer celebration. My coming out actually meant committing to the lifelong process of continually engaging in the re-outing of myself, in every path I choose to follow in life. The process may have began with close friends and family, but has since grown to include every single job I’ve held, simple tasks like going to doctor appointments, artistic communities I’ve been a part of, as well as the political spaces I’ve organized with.

For the most part I do my best to live every day as a happy, queer & out butch, but would be lying if I didn’t say that sometimes it feels burdensome, the having to constantly worry about entering new spaces: disapproving shoe store owners refusing my patronage, dancing at clubs where straight men make it a point to walk in-between me and my partner as if to challenge my butchness. Also hard are Filipino spaces, where thewhispers and stares from aunties or smirking uncles feel alienating from a place that should feel like community. Particularly paralyzing? The situations addled with fear, not knowing if the people I love most, like my mom and sister, will know or understand how to have my back as straight allies; and then having to be the strong one who doesn’t let my disappointment and shame be the forces that drive me away when it turns out they actually don’t.

On the good days, though, when I can walk into job interviews, all suit & tie shoes-shined, and feel in my fullest of selves. Or being able to take stage with an audience to bear witness; the privilege of Expo in the Phils with a partner; of getting to be brown & butch on the page; my list definitely can go on and on so it’s not like being out doesn’t have advantages.

But its when the weariness sets in; the continual need to stake claim in my political community, where the roles of queer-spectrum folks are only just beginning to enter the collective consciousness, never mind the nuance of gender identity or expression. This makes a couple things difficult: one, oftentimes being the only self-identifying gender-queer butches in a women’s organization, and two, the trial-by-error struggle of having to be the one who must step into the role of educator for straight allies; not to mention the pain of replication, of familial dynamics and relationship.

The challenge I’d like to pose to non-identifying LGBTQ folks, is to push your analysis and practice around what it truly means to be a straight ally. Acceptance and love of the LGBTQ people in your life are but the first steps in your own process of learning how to be an ally. Perhaps a next step could be asking yourselves how to be active participants in the creation of spaces safe enough to hold the complexity and integrity of queer-spectrum identities. Whatever that step may be, don’t be afraid of uncomfortable situations or awkward dialogues that can only lead to stronger relationships and deeper trust.

Lolan Buhain Sevilla is a queer butch cultural worker who strives for her art, whether on the stage or page, to always be rooted in community, study and practice. She’s a member of Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment, author of Translating New Brown, and co-editor of Walang Hiya … Literature Taking Risks Toward Liberatory Practice. She truly hopes the love she feels for her communities is reflected in the body of work she creates in order to honor it.

(9) 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: The Morong 43


GABRIELA-USA Calls for Solidarity as the 43 Health Workers Begin Hunger Strike

Day 8 of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

Contact: Terrie Cervas,
Vice Chair of Finance – GABRIELA USA
Coordinator for Mass Campaigns – Sisters of GABRIELA, Awaken!  (SiGAw!)
(213) 537-8278

December 3rd, 2010 marks the first day that the 43 health workers, also referred to as the Morong 43, embark on a hunger strike in protest of their unlawful detention.  Today also marks the 8th day of GABRIELA-USA’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign, on which we highlight the struggle and bravery of the Morong 43.

Nearly 10 months ago, the lives of the Morong 43 (which includes doctors, midwives, and community health workers) were violently disrupted when they were arrested based on false allegations that they are members and supporters of the New People’s Army.  While under detention, the 43 have endured physical and psychological torture.  Catherine Traywick, journalist and member of Sisters of GABRIELA, Awaken (SiGAw), traveled to the Philippines and personally visited the Morong 43 in the summer of 2010.   The visit to the detention center and the specific experiences of the female detainees of the Morong 43 can be found in the article Traywick wrote for Ms. magazine, entitled “Defending the Rights of Detained Filipina Health Workers”  (see below full article).

The families of the 43, along with community members from various local and international groups, such as nurses organizations, church groups, human rights advocates, and countless others, have worked tirelessly to demand the release of the 43.  Philippine President Benigno Aquino has the ability to have all charges against the 43 health workers withdrawn, but he has not done so, despite his earlier admission that their arrest was based on a defective warrant.

In light of the fact that the Morong 43 remain unlawfully imprisoned under cruel conditions, they have decided to take on a hunger strike at the risk of their own health.  The Morong 43’s statement notes, “This is the only course of action left us to end our continued illegal detention, there being no clear action by the government for our unconditional release.”

GABRIELA-USA calls on all concerned community members to stand in solidarity with the 43 and demand their immediate and unconditional release.  The campaign calls on all international networks to support the Morong 43 and all political prisoners in the following ways:

  • Join the hunger strike on December 6, their ten month anniversary in jail, and issue a statement of support;
  • Organize a sympathy fast or a hunger strike;
  • Picket the Philippine Embassy and demand freedom for the Morong 43 and other political prisoners especially Angie Ipong, Eduardo Serrano, Eduardo Sarmiento and Sandino Esguerra;
  • Highlight the hunger strike in your commemoration of human rights week and December 10th – International HR Day;
  • Lobby your congress representatives;
  • Write your ambassadors stationed in the Philippines;
  • Encourage international organizations/institutions and those in your network to send support statements to the hunger strike (addressed to Malacanang cc Philippine Embassy in your country, Secretary of Justice Leila de Lima and Karapatan);
    • H.E. Benigno C. Aquino III

President of the Republic

Malacañang Palace,

JP Laurel St., San Miguel

Manila, Philippines

Voice: +63(2) 564 1451

Fax: +63(2) 742 1641 ; +63(2) 929 3968

E-mail: corres@op.gov.ph / opnet@ops.gov.ph

    • Atty. Leila De Lima

Secretary, Department of Justice

Padre Faura St., Manila, Philippines

Direct Line: +63(2) 521 8344 ; +63(2) 521 3721

Trunkline:  +63(2) 523 8481 loc.214

Fax: +63(2) 521-1614

Email:  soj@doj.gov.ph

  • Send postcards;
  • Circulate this and further announcements plus the hunger strike bulletins (visit freethehealthworkers.blogspot.com) which will be issued from time to time;
  • Solicit financial and material support for the Morong 43, other political prisoners and their families; and
  • Share your ideas with others so there can be a variety of support actions.

Free the Morong 43!
Release Angie Ipong, Eduardo Serrano, Eduardo Sarmiento and Sandino Esguerra!
Free all political prisoners!

Dr. Merry Mia-Clamor, Ma. Teresa Quinawayan, Lydia Obera (some of the women of the 43)


Defending the Rights of Detained Filipina Health Workers

In an unlawful and unjustified sweep, 43 health workers–including two pregnant women–were detained nine months ago in Morong, Philippines. The women and men were separated and sent to prison camps without explanation. Three women have since “disappeared.” Find out more in this exclusive interview with the women workers from inside the detention center.


When we enter the women’s ward of the sprawling, open-air prison complex, we are greeted by a flurry of yellow behind a thin wall of bars. The 23 women we have come to visit are already waiting, buzzing around a wooden table just outside of the cell they share, eager to embrace those among us whom they knew in their former lives.

Each is wearing a brightly-colored t-shirt that reads “Free the 43 Health Workers” and, as the barred gate closes behind the last of us, the crowd bursts into song–a hymn about the strength of women–and some begin to cry.

At the time of our visit, the women (who range in age from early-20s to early-60s) had been imprisoned at this facility for nearly two months and, prior to that, were detained at a high-security military camp for three months. As I write this months later, they are still behind bars. By now, they’ve been locked up for nearly nine months—long enough for two of them, pregnant at the time of their arrests, to give birth in jail.

Within the crowd of 23, one woman is a doctor. Two are midwives. The rest are volunteer community health workers. They are happy to share their stories.

One by one, on the day of our visit, they recount the day of their arrest: That morning, they had been participating in a first-responder health training at a local doctor’s house, sponsored by Community Medicine Development Foundation. In the middle of their workshop, they found themselves surrounded by armed Philippines military and provincial police.

They were all, indiscriminatingly, bound, blind-folded and brought to an undisclosed location where they were interrogated for 36 hours and, some say, tortured. They were 43 when they were arrested in Morong, Rizal. Now they are fractured into three groups: 23 women are housed here, at Bagong Diwa Prison; 15 men are housed in the same prison’s high-security ward; and five women and men remain isolated at the military camp.

The arresting officers claim that the health workers are members of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the insurgent Communist Party of the Philippines. They also claim that the health workers were making bombs at the doctor’s home. Recently, they started claiming that the health workers were medics of the NPA.

The accusations are ever-changing and outlandish, even in a country as deeply divided as the Philippines. When I ask them, the women vehemently deny all accusations. Numerous local human rights, health and women’s organizations have similarly rejected the allegations, in support of the health workers. The national ire sparked by their continued imprisonment has since fomented into international outrage. Amnesty International has called for a prompt and independent investigation into the legality of the arrest and detention of the health workers, as well as into allegations of torture, and the president of the Philippines has even spoken out (albeit cautiously) about the illegality of the arrests. But as yet all 43 remain in custody.

Sitting amidst the women, whose stories evoke both tears and laughter, it would be difficult to believe that they are terrorists, as the military claims. It’s much easier to believe that they are victims, caught up in the government’s controversial counter-insurgency campaign before anyone knew what was happening. For hours, they talk about the indignities they suffered at the military camp where, for five days, they were denied their right to counsel.

One of them explains that they were diapered during the first 36 hours of their detention, after which they were only allowed to use the toilet with the assistance of guards, who removed and replaced their underwear each time. An older woman tells us that she was isolated from the other women and that the interrogating officer repeatedly called her “mother” in between accusations. Another young woman recalls the day that three women were removed from the cell they shared, the guards muffling screams with heavy palms. They never saw those women again. They have since been told that the missing women, along with two of the men, are still at the military camp and that they are “cooperating” with officials.

While the health workers maintain that they are not affiliated with the NPA, they are honest about being community activists. “It’s hard to be a community health worker and not become an activist,” explains Merry Clamor, a 33-year-old doctor. When one sees the poor conditions of the people, she adds, one is compelled to advocate in their interests.

The contributions of health workers are profoundly felt by Philippines communities, which is, in part, why so many are outraged by the ongoing detention of the Morong 43. Following implementation of socially retrogressive programs imposed by the World Bank and the IMF in the 1980s and 1990s, the nation privatized its health-care system, effectively rendering it economically prohibitive and thus inaccessible to most Filipinos.

According to Ibon International, privatization has lowered government spending on health care to a mere 1.7 percent of total national expenditures over the last decade. For many Filipinos, the care offered by all-volunteer community health teams is the only care they are likely to ever receive.

“We are doing the work that the government refuses to do,” Clamor says, “and this is how they repay us.”

The Morong 43 are not the first community health workers to be accused of being NPA members and summarily arrested. At least 8 others have been detained or killed prior to their arrest. The human rights organization Karapatan, which keeps a running record of detentions, disappearances and deaths associated with the government’s counter-insurgency program, calculates that 59 women (of 317 people in total) have been taken into custody as political prisoners under the current administration–among them community organizers, health workers and environmental activists.

Nevertheless, the women remain optimistic. While their families, lawyers, and organizations try to secure their release, they are putting their skills to use in the women’s ward–they’ve started performing health check-ups on other inmates and, in their spare time, they make colorful beaded necklaces that read “Free 43.”

Before we leave, they insist on singing us another song.

CATHERINE A. TRAYWICK is an immigration blogger for The Media Consortium, and a staff writer for Campus Progress. She interned at Ms. in the spring of 2010. She has a B.A. in English and a minor in Women & Gender Studies from Arizona State University.


(7) 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: GABRIELA-USA Celebrates World Aids Day on Day 7 of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign

GABRIELA-USA Celebrates World Aids Day on Day 7 of  the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign

Contact: Donna Denina
Vice Chair Mass Campaigns
Pinay sa Seattle – Gabriela USA

Today, member organizations of Gabriela USA celebrate World AIDS Day as part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign. December 1st marks the 22nd year in celebration of World AIDS DAY, the most recognized health related issue affecting more than 33 million people globally. Half of those infected with the autoimmune deficiency are women, about 15 million.

Women and young girls of marginalized populations are at particularly high risk because of issues that infringe on their human rights including violence against women, sexual and reproductive rights and education, gender inequities, forced sterilization, and inadequate access to basic health care and services. The health and wellbeing of women is essential to the success of overcoming this global epidemic which has often overlooked the needs of women.

For women in the Philippines, economic hardship and poverty drives women and young girls into sexual labor making them vulnerable to contracting sexually transmitted infections (STI). Additionally, increased migration of overseas workers, making them already vulnerable to abuse and violence, impedes on their access to basic health care when in the host country.

Currently a comprehensive reproductive health (RH) bill filed by the Gabriela Women’s Partylist, is being deliberated in both the House and Senate for the 15th Congress. Proponents opposed to the bill continue to uphold conservative feudal values which disempower women to choose alternative methods of contraception and decide on the health and well being of their own bodies. The Philippine government continues to erroneously promote the bill as merely a form of “population control” which is flawed and misleading.

Lana Linaban of GABRIELA states, “The government’s premise that overpopulation is the cause of poverty, a framework being peddled and funded by the US government, puts the blame on individuals, particularly women, and rationalizes the imposition of birth control methods regardless of the detrimental effects on women’s health… Reproductive health is a right and it is the government’s responsibility to uphold and ensure this.”

In light of the campaign to help solve the worlds HIV/AIDS epidemic, the women of Gabriela USA will continue to place the rights and welfare of women at the forefront issues related to health and reproductive rights, continue to raise awareness of these issues, and fight for the overall emancipation of all women free from violence and oppression.

(6) 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: Youth and Student Organizers

To commemorate the birthday of Filipino revolutionary Andres Bonifacio, founder of the Katipunan and the founding anniversaries of  Anakbayan and Kabataan Makabayan, we’re dedicating today’s (11/30)  16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign  post to youth and student organizers.

Knowing Karen Empeño

A conversation with Jonna Baldres on her mentor and friend, Karen Empeño, who was abducted by armed military forces of the Philippine government.

Jonna’s painting “Baril Baraha Biktima”; photo of Jonna (leaning, front), Karen (left), and friends.

Jonna is to the New York Filipino community as Reese Witherspoon is to Hollywood: a darling powerhouse who commands your respect because she’s smart and works damn hard.  After organizing at the prestigious College of Fine Arts of the University of the Philippines  – Diliman (UP), Jonna has become one of the cornerstones of the Woodside, Queens community.  Jonna’s ease and familiarity with the surrounding neighborhood and its people is unexpected given she’s spent three of the last five years living between Manila and New York City’s outer boroughs.  In recent years, she has played a major role in local immigrants’ rights campaigns and was also a main coordinator for the International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees,  while being a full-time employee of the Bayanihan Community Center in Woodside.

Jonna’s drive to grow as a community organizer developed as the result of several factors, but none of them are more important than the abduction of her friend, mentor, and fellow activist,  Karen Empeño, 23 at the time, who disappeared on June 26, 2006.

The pair met in 2005.  Karen was a sociology student about to begin her thesis, and a lead organizer with STAND UP (Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights at the University of the Philippines).  Jonna was already working around Manila, but the pull of on-campus student activism proved to be more worthwhile than meetings with clients as a freelance graphic designer.  Both women had reputations as fierce student leaders on the UP campus, so despite being in different graduating classes from different colleges, their meeting was inevitable.

Nung na meet ko sya, parang feeling close na si Karen, kasi kilala na nya ko sa mga picture na nakikita nya galing sa rally or kung ano ano.  Talagang makulit siyang tao, minsan nga super-hyper.  Pero nag gigitara din sya, so nag click kami. / When we met, Karen already acted comfortable around me, because she recognized me from past event and rally photos.  She is a really talkative and perky person, and was sometime super-hyper.  But she played the guitar, like me, so we got along well.”

For the next few months, the two would work closely together planning campus events for STAND UP, facilitate occasional student workshops, and organize youth retreats.  These were all learning opportunities for Jonna, a bit out of touch with the campus since her graduation.  She was relieved that Karen was able to take the time and help her transition back into campus organizing.  “Siya talaga ang tumulong sa ipagkaorginiza ko.  Maraming akong natutunan sa kanya na kinakaya kong ipasa sa mga nakikilala kong kasama dito. / She is really the person who helped organize me.  I learned so much from her, that I hope I can pass those lessons on to other organizers here.”

By the summer of 2005, Karen began her immersion with peasant farmers for her thesis research, and Jonna returned to live with her mother in New York. “The last time I was able to spend time with Karen was right before her immersion began.  She was really excited to start this part of her work, to the point that she was crying tears-of-joy in anticipation.”

Jonna didn’t learn of Karen’s disappearance until about a month after initial reports, and only by accident: through an update email posted to a listserv.   Initially, Jonna was left with more questions than answers upon reading the email.  Which Karen was taken?  Why has she been missing for a month?  Who is responsible for this? It took Jonna the longest night of her life to confirm whether the Karen who disappeared was, in fact, her talkative and bubbly mentor.  There were hours spent sending a flurry of text messages to UP alumni and old activist friends still in Manila. “Yung Karen ba natin yan?/ Is that our Karen?”

The reply was, “Oo, Karen natin./ Yes, our Karen.”   Jonna’s heart broke and she cried for three days straight.

The details that surfaced were these: Sherlyn Cadapan, a 29 year old student at the UP College of Human Kinetics, and Karen Empeño were forced into a van.  A local farmer, Manuel Merino, tried to stop the armed men, and was abducted, too.  Since 2000, thousands of community organizers, students, union leaders, members of the press, and other civilians were disappeared or blatantly murdered under the corrupted administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo which hoped to quell the growing people’s movement in the Philippines.  Arroyo’s time in office has proven to be equally fatal to the Martial Law Era, with thousands of innocent civilians dead or missing during her term.  These human rights violations were unmasked to the mainstream when Melissa Roxas, a Filipino-American community health worker, was kidnapped by armed plain clothes soldiers and her story was featured on the New York Times’ front page.

Manuel, Sherlyn, and Karen were brought to a camp. They were tortured and beaten.  The women were raped.  The public only knows this because another victim, Raymond Manalo, escaped this same camp and survived. There are many graphic accounts of his time as a prisoner chronicled in major publications.  The most harrowing one being the description of the farmer who attempted to prevent Sherlyn and Karen’s abductions, Manuel Merino, being burned alive.  Raymond Manalo was the last person to see Sherlyn and Karen, tied to table legs and laying on the ground after beatings by their military captors.

Being thousands of miles away from answers, Jonna only had the humidity of a New York summer to contain her anger.  She would spend hours, which turned into months, combing the internet for articles.  “Only when I started reading the press, that’s when the reality of Karen’s disappearance sunk in.  There was one Manalo interview in particular that was too detailed : 4x4s and bamboo sticks inserted into Karen, legs tied and bound.  I couldn’t even finish reading it.  By that time, my anger was immense.”  However, the graduate of the Fine Arts College was able to turn to her artistic training, and redirect her anger into what resulted in several poems and songs, and a painting called “Baril, Baraha, Biktima” (“Gun, Playing Cards, Victim”).

“Karen was really excited to start this part of her work; all she wanted was a deeper understanding of the lives of these families.  When you come from a prestigious university like UP, students embrace their privilege.  They don’t look forward to living in humble communities the way Karen did.  Nakakagalit na yung mga gustong tumulong, yun ang mga hinuhuli.  Yun ang mga dinudukot ng gobyierno at sundalo. / It makes me angry knowing that the people who want to help, contribute to society, those are the ones who are taken.  Those are the ones disappeared by the government.”

In the meantime, the anger has found a workable plateau within Jonna’s body, and it’s easier for her to laugh again.  A smile appears on her face, because she suddenly remembers the last youth and students retreat she and Karen attended together.  The site was near a beach, and during a longer break between sessions, the two took a boat ride with some of their friends.  Also a skilled photographer, Jonna remembers the compositions of Karen along the boat and playing by the water.  The photos were taken on Jonna’s 35mm SLR camera, and never developed.

Jonna understands that the mere retelling of Karen’s story doesn’t correct injustice; doesn’t return the 2000 victims of human rights violations in the Philippines.  “I won’t stop organizing my community, and holding the Philippine government accountable for what they did to Karen and countless others whose names haven’t even surfaced in the media.  This is about ending the exploitation of farmers by their landlords, living a life free of military violence and state repression, creating jobs within the Philippines, living in affordable housing, getting an education the average family can manage, and having access to enough food and medicine to live healthy lives.  This is what Karen fought for, and this is what I’ve learned during her disappearance.  We are fighting for  justice and equal access to basic human rights not only for the people in my life, but for every Filipino.  Yes, it’s difficult knowing that she is not beside me, but this movement and my commitment to it – neither  waver. 

“Dapat nyang alamin na kumakapit pa rin ako, mahigpit pa,  at ang daming din bagong tao na kumakapit rin./ I want to tell her that I am holding on, holding on tightly,  and that many people who have been moved by her story are holding on, too.  I have hope. Until there is no evidence of her body, Karen is still alive.”   She adds, “ I still have that roll of film from the boat.   It’s somewhere in a drawer at my apartment.   Maybe I’ll get the chance to develop it sometime soon.”   

Attached is a poem dedicated to Karen Empeño and a photo of Baril, Baraha, Biktima by Jonna Baldres.



Tinitingnan ko ang larawan mo,

ang larawang nalimbag sa mga pahayagan

nitong nakaraang isang taon at limang buwan

nang ikaw at mga kasama’y nawawala.

Nakangiti ka.

Walang bakas ng paghihirap

Paghihirap na dinanas sa kamay

ng mga hayop na mapagsamantala.

Narinig ko ang balita.

Ginahasa raw nila kayo, pinahirapan.

At ngayo’y huwag na raw kayong hanapin pa

sapagkat kasama ng magsasakang kanilang niliyaban

ikaw raw ay hindi na makikita pa.

Marahil kahit ang isang tanga

ay maiintindihang ito’y pananakot lamang

na akala’y sa kanilang babala ay magpapadala

at ang aming paghahanap ay ititigil nang tuluyan.

Hindi tayong tulad nila,

na noon pa ma’y buong loob at kusang binitawan

ang dangal at kalayaan sa pagsunod

sa utos ng berdugo’t diktador.

Hindi namin titigilan ang paghahanap.

Hindi lamang sa inyo,

kundi para sa hustisyang

kailanma’y hindi naibigay sa inyo.

Mananatili ang larawan mong nakalimbag,

hindi lamang sa mga pahayagan.

Nakaukit ito sa isipang kung saan ang ngiti mo’y

hindi lamang simpleng pagbuka ng mga labi.

Ang ngiti mo’y mapagpalaya.

Ngiting sa mga magsasakang inaapi

ay naghatid ng pag-asa’t pagkamulat.

Tinitingnan ko ang larawan mo.

Nakangiti ka.

At iyon ang mananatili sa isipan ko.

(4) 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: The VFA and Its Effects on Women



As part of the 16 Days of Action to end violence against women, Pinay sa Seattle demands that President Obama thoroughly examine the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the Philippines, and its culpability in the ongoing violence against Filipino women at the hands of U.S. military servicemen for the last 11 years. The women of Pinay, a member organization of Gabriela USA, stands in solidarity nationally and internationally with all those who stand firm to end violence against women.

The United States military, through the VFA, is responsible for crimes to the Philippine people around US military bases in the Philippines, especially the crimes against women. This agreement violates Philippine sovereignty by allowing foreign access to all parts of the country and the people. Increased militarization creates a culture of fear and supports the use of violence, aggression, or military interventions for settling disputes and enforcing US economic and political interests. Women are the most affected at the hands of US militarization.

In 2006, Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was convicted for raping a Filipina woman named “Nicole” and was sentenced to 40 years in jail. Although the Philippine Supreme Court decision called for him to be turned over to Philippine custody, Smith has not served a day of his sentence in a Filipino jail. Through the VFA, the U.S. maintains him in U.S. custody. The fire on this case was reignited when Smith in 2009 offered a settlement for damages with Nicole, in the amount of 100,000 Pesos ($2,000 USD). Nicole and her family accepted the settlement and decided to relocate to the United States, stating, “There is no justice in the Philippines.”

The United States military, through the VFA, is responsible for the abuse that Nicole experienced and must be recognized as such. Rape culture is condoned worldwide, and domestically in the United States, sexual abuse continues to be a huge problem. Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that, “Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes, with 60% still being left unreported.” Due to this substantial underreporting and the continued failures of the current justice system, RAINN estimates that only about 6% of rapists ever serve a day in jail.

Pinay sa Seattle is united in the ongoing fight to tear down the VFA and end the U.S. military presence in the Philippines.

For more information, please visit the 16 Days of Activism homepage – http:// 16dayscwgl.rutgers.edu/2010-campaign/theme-announcement