On March 8 — International Working Women’s Day — Filipino women gathered at The Station coffee shop in Beacon Hill to honor women’s leadership in social movements and their communities. Organized by GABRIELA Seattle, a Filipino women’s organization, the event featured a panel discussion about how women are showing up in social movements for justice and human rights in both the Philippines and Seattle.
Organizers called for support against attacks by the Philippines’ government against GABRIELA and other opposition organizations. In July 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Anti-Terrorism Act, which gave the government sweeping powers to crackdown on alleged terrorist organizations. The law has enabled the government to stifle dissent, labeling civil society groups such as GABRIELA as terrorist organizations due to their opposition to the Duterte government.
Here in Seattle, two local organizers, Jill Mangaliman and Precious Arney, have been labeled as terrorists due to their leadership in local and national GABRIELA chapters.
“Anyone who is a critic will be labeled as a terrorist, including myself, because I’m a prominent leader of GABRIELA USA,” Arney said. “We’re not terrorists — we are really here to advocate for the rights of Filipinos and Filipino women.”
Since taking office in 2016, Duterte has been accused of overseeing many human rights violations, including the war on drugs, in which tens of thousands of people have been extrajudicially killed by police in the Philippines.
Jessica Valdez, local coordinator for the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) and a panel member, spoke to how Filipino diaspora communities are fighting against human rights violations in the Philippines. ICHRP is advocating for the passage of the Philippines Human Rights Act, a bill which would pause U.S. funding of the Philippines National Police and armed forces until human rights violations are addressed.
“What we do here in the U.S. is really deeply connected and standing in solidarity,” Valdez said. “Even though we’re not there with them physically, our lives are still really deeply connected, deeply impacted by the political and economic issues back in the Philippines.”
Another panelist, Maria Batayola, discussed the ways Filipino women were supporting their communities in the Seattle area. Batayola, a longtime community organizer, has worked on many issues including ending gender-based violence and environmental justice. Batayola said that every community member can help bridge local and global economic and power inequalities.
“This intertwining of Philippine work and American work is very real, because each one of us can change the balance of that power difference,” Batayola said.
Organizers of the panel also honored Filipino women leaders, including Burien Mayor Sofia Aragon. “It’s really meaningful to me to be with the Filipino community on International Women’s Day,” Aragon said.
In May, the Philippines will be holding its presidential elections. For GABRIELA and other social movement organizations, the election presents a stark choice between continuing down a path of authoritarianism — embodied by the children of Duterte and the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos who are currently leading in the polls — and democracy.
Many Filipinos in the diaspora such as Batayola are considering registering as dual citizens in order to vote. In many ways, the election encapsulates all the big issues Filipino women activists in GABRIELA and other organizations have been wrestling with.
“We do have a voice in the movement when it comes to fighting for democracy, when it comes to fighting for the rights of our community,” Arney said.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Maria Batayola is considering dual citizenship in the United States and the Phillipinnes. The newspaper regrets the error.
Guy Oron is the staff reporter for Real Change. Find them on Twitter, @GuyOron.
Read more of the Mar. 16-22, 2022 issue.