Filipino Community Members Honor and Defend Women’s Leadership | March 16-22, 2022

On March 8, International Working Women’s Day, Filipina women gathered at The Station cafe 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 included a panel discussion on how women present themselves in social movements for justice and human rights in the Philippines and Seattle.

Organizers called for support against the Philippine government’s attacks on GABRIELA and other opposition organizations. In July 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Anti-Terrorism Act, which gave the government sweeping powers to suppress suspected terrorist organizations. The law allowed the government to stifle dissent, labeling civil society groups such as GABRIELA as terrorist organizations because of their opposition to the Duterte government.

Here in Seattle, two local organizers, Jill Mangaliman and Precious Arney, have been branded terrorists because of their leadership in local and national GABRIELA chapters.

“Anyone who criticizes will be branded a terrorist, including myself, as I am a prominent leader of GABRIELA USA,” Arney said. “We are not terrorists – we are truly here to defend the rights of Filipinos and Filipino women.”

Since taking office in 2016, Duterte has been accused of overseeing numerous human rights abuses, 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 of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) and panel member, spoke about how Filipino diaspora communities are fighting against human rights abuses in the Philippines. ICHRP is advocating for the passage of the Philippines Human Rights Act, a bill that would suspend U.S. funding to the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces until violations of human rights man are treated.

“What we’re doing here in the United States is really deeply connected and supportive,” Valdez said. “Even though we are not there with them physically, our lives are still deeply intertwined, deeply affected by the political and economic issues in the Philippines.”

Another panelist, Maria Batayola, shared how Filipina women are 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 every member of the community can help bridge local and global economic and power inequalities.

“This intertwining of Filipino labor and American labor is very real, because each of us can shift the balance of this power difference,” Batayola said.

Panel organizers also paid tribute to Filipino women leaders, including Burien Mayor Sofia Aragon. “It’s really meaningful for me to be with the Filipino community on International Women’s Day,” Aragon said.

In May, the Philippines will hold its presidential elections. For GABRIELA and other social movement organizations, the election presents a stark choice between continuing on the path of authoritarianism – epitomized by the children of Duterte and late dictator Ferdinand Marcos who currently lead in the polls – and democracy.
Many diaspora Filipinos, like Batayola, are considering registering as dual citizens in order to vote. In many ways, the election encapsulates all the big issues that Filipino women activists in GABRIELA and other organizations have grappled with.

“We 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 that Maria Batayola is considering dual citizenship in the United States and the Philippines. The newspaper regrets the error.

Guy is Real Change’s staff reporter. Seattleite, he studied at UW. Guy’s writings have been featured in The Stranger and the South Seattle Emerald. Outside of work, Guy enjoys spending his time organizing justice, rock climbing and playing chess.

Mara R. Wilmoth