Women are not scared of another dictatorship

March 6, 2006 at 9:11 am Leave a comment

Ginang Speaker, mga ginagalang na kapwa kongresista, isang mapagpalayang hapon sa inyong lahat.

The imposition of Presidential Proclamation 1017 beginning February 24 to March 3, 2006 achieved what years of history lessons have failed to achieve with young Filipinos. For one week, the nation was transformed into one big classroom on the importance of people’s vigilance to protect our civil liberties. For one week, the specter of dictatorship unleashed by Proclamation 1017 jolted our national memory, and the warrantless arrests, the threats against press freedom, and the violent dispersals of peaceful mobilizations were the reenactment of the dark days of Martial Law. And with all due respect to a respected colleague who spoke last week, a “superior” Martial Law is as irredeemably dark as an inferior one. It was also a reminder of how the people will never be cowed again by purported leaders who rule through coercion, fraud and manipulation. Freedom and democracy are at the core of our soul as a nation and we will sing, dance, march in the streets, and fight all our lives if we must to protect this hard-earned freedom and democracy.

Proclamation 1017 also provided us with the opportunity to commune with those who stood up for our civil liberties, and as we commemorate this week International Women’s Day, let us honor once again ordinary women whose strength, dignity and passion tell us that this country is not bereft of principled women leaders. Indeed, let it be known today that Filipino women in the present day – mothers who willingly face hunger to feed their children and women who leave their families to work abroad – have more in common with the heroism of ordinary women who struggled against the dictatorship than the woman who now sits in Malacañang. In moments of repression, like the one we are now grappling with despite the lifting of Proclamation 1017, we honor the memories of these brave women.

Indeed, the name Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo pales when compared to those of Lorena Barros, Liliosa Hilao, Haydee Yorac, Eugenia Apostol, Dolores Stephens Feria, Sr. Mary John Mananzan, Nini Quezon Avancena, Lidy Nakpil, Guy Claudio, and Raquel Tiglao, among others. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will be remembered because, like Ferdinand Marcos, she succumbed to the totalitarian temptation, the consummation of which killed some of these women during the oppressive Marcos regime. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, like Ferdinand Marcos, thwarted the will of the people, and with the imposition of Proclamation 1017 and her recent pronouncement that she would not hesitate to reimpose it “when necessary” has displayed her capacity to reserve to herself the position of President-for-life. These women fought back, and some of them are fighting still, to reclaim the people’s sovereignty from a fraudulent and repressive regime. These brave women that we honor today fought for truth, freedom, democracy and justice, exactly the values that make this nation great and worth fighting for and the same values that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has affronted and shirked just to stay in Malacañang.

Today, as we commemorate in advance International Women’s Day, let us draw the line between women who usurp power and women made powerful by the strength of their conviction and the selflessness of their aspirations. We recall and celebrate the heroism and courage of Lorena Barros, a woman activist during the Marcos regime. Lorena Barros, or Laurie, was an anthropology student at the University of the Philippines in Diliman when she became an activist. Barros certainly was not talking about the likes of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when she that “the new woman, the new Filipina is first and foremost a militant… she is a woman who has discovered the exalting realm of responsibility, a woman fully engaged in the making of history.” Barros made a mark in history as a woman who, like Tandang Sora and Gabriela, was willing to die for our freedom. Even with the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, Barros continued to fight against the Marcos regime. She went underground when martial law was finally declared, and was captured and subsequently killed by the military on March 24, 1976 at the age of 28. Let the story of Lorena Barros remind Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo that the women of this country would not be afraid to fight another dictatorship.

Let us also honor Liliosa Hilao, another activist during the Marcos regime. Like Lorena Barros, Liliosa was killed by the military. She was at the forefront of student protests against Ferdinand Marcos as the editor of the campus paper of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. She was called a subversive, another word for rebel, by the Marcos regime.

On April 4, 1973, three men from the Philippine Constabulary raided the Hilao residence. There was, of course, no search warrant or warrant of arrest; Martial Law had been declared a few days ago and in the eyes of the belligerent Marcos government, Liliosa was a threat to the state. Liliosa was not at home when the raid took place and she failed to receive the warning sent by one of her siblings that there were policemen waiting for her. She and her siblings, who were also activists, were tortured the moment they arrived. Liliosa was brought to a separate room and raped. When she was finally brought to Camp Crame, her sister Josefina, who had also been arrested, saw her for the last time, her face swollen and disfigured. That was the last time that she was seen alive. Police officials in Camp Crame reported Liliosa’s death two days later as a case of suicide. Now, Liliosa Hilao is a symbol against torture, illegal detention and extra-judicial killings. Her case is one of the first of the murder of anti-Marcos activists that will forever haunt the Marcos family.

Let Liliosa’s story remind Gloria Macapagal Arroyo that the proud cry of women who fight for freedom carries on and will never be silenced.

There are other women who in various ways joined the struggle against the dictatorship. As the Macapagal-Arroyo government presses on with its insidious attempts to quell press freedom, we also honor the women in media who wielded truth as an instrument of democratization. These are women like Eugenia Apostol, the founder of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and the editor of “Mr. and Mrs.”, whose ‘mosquito press’ helped to drive the dictator away. She did investigative reports on the assassination of Ninoy Aquino when Marcos decreed what the press could and could not say. She published pictures of the growing protest rallies against the Marcos regime and reported statements coming from anti-Marcos forces at a time when the government, like it does again today, monitors each and every sentence that is printed by the newspapers and aired by the broadcast media. Let us celebrate the bravery of women like Eugenia Apostol, the women of Newsbreak and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and may their stories enlighten Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo that truth, like oil in water, always rises to the surface.

AKBAYAN-Laban ng Masa also honors Haydee Yorac anew as an embodiment not just of the anti-dictatorship movement but also of the entire struggle against the dangers of forgetting. Haydee fought the Marcos dictatorship before she was imprisoned, inside her cell, the moment she was freed, and up to her last breath. She is the only terror who did not frighten us activists. She exuded authority not to coerce, but to impress upon you that she would stand her ground and to affirm her unflinching commitment to truth and justice. A few days after the declaration of Proclamation 1017, law students and professors of prestigious universities in the country, including the UP College of Law , took to the streets to continue the fight for our civil liberties. I am proud to warn Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo that there are many Haydee Yoracs that stood up against Proclamation 1017 and the other draconian measures that the government imposed. Remember Haydee Yorac, Ms. Macapagal-Arroyo, and be forewarned that the search for truth and justice does not cease until they are unearthed and upheld.

There are many others – mothers who lost their children because of the dictatorship, women who remain missing, the nameless faces of women who marched in the streets to defy Marcos – whose stories are testament to the fortitude of Filipino women. We draw from them the inspiration that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo could hardly evoke. We thank these women, too, for at least we can say that the one in Malacanang hardly stands up to our standards of leadership and heroism.

Let these stories – of Lorena Barros, Liliosa Hilao, Eugenia Apostol and Haydee Yorac – be a lesson to Congress as well, especially to us, its women members: the price of this institution’s integrity and independence is the constant and unwavering fulfillment of our duty to protect democracy and correct the excesses of the Presidency. Freedom and democracy are not the privilege of those who are in power, but are always measured by the vibrancy of constructive dissent and the exuberance and responsibility of freedom. Our roles here are not played in a vacuum, and our duty does not follow the dictates of the woman in Malacañang, but that of the imperatives of freedom and democracy.

Ginang Speaker, mga ginagalang na kapwa Kongresista, marami pong salamat at mapagpalayang Pandaigdigang Araw ng Kababaihan.


Entry filed under: Philippines in Crisis, Speeches, Women and Feminism.

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