How can we celebrate International Working Women’s Day if women continue to get persecuted for defending human rights?

80-year old peasant advocate Sister Ellen Belardo, in spite of her age, has had to post bail just so she can continue serving the masses. The Duterte regime, through the Anti-Money Laundering Council, has frozen the bank accounts of the organization she’s from—the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines—out of mere and baseless suspicion that they are “financing terrorists.” Projects in the service of the rural poor have had to be put on hold because of this malicious freeze.

Sr. Ellen is not the only activist who has had to post bail to continue their work. Like her, Joms Salvador of Gabriela and Kiri Dalena of RESBAK have also been charged with perjury. National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon is after them, Gert Libang, Elisa Tita Lubi, Edith Burgos, Sr. Emma Cupin, and other women activists who have been active in defending human rights, including the land rights of farmers. Tinay Palabay of Karapatan remains abroad, gathering international solidarity for workers and peasants struggling against the Duterte regime’s macho-fascist terror; a warrant of arrest also waits for her to come home.

COST OF STRUGGLE: Human rights defenders charged by National Security Adviser Esperon with perjury post bail to continue their activism outside of jail. (Photo from Bulatlat.)

Angie Ipong, a senior citizen like Sr. Ellen, has been accused of being part of a rebel ambush on state forces in Mindanao. At the time of the alleged ambush, however, she was actually in Manila, campaigning against the deportation of fellow peasant advocate Sr. Patricia Fox whose compassion for the rural poor had earned Duterte’s ire. What is especially alarming is the gap between when the warrant was issued (June 2018) and when it surfaced (September 2019), leading her colleagues at Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura to suspect that the police had used the time to surveil and redtag other civilian activists she was in contact with within this duration. 

If caught on fabricated charges, Angie will join Cherryl Catalogo, another peasant advocate, in jail. Cherryl was among the scores of activists arrested in a series of coordinated raids in Bacolod and Manila last September. Artistic coordinator of Teatro Obrero, she has been accused of being a member of the New People’s Army like Angie.

PATRIOT IN PAINT: A mural of peasant advocate and former political prisoner Angie Ipong made by volunteer artists during National Peasant Month in October of 2019.

These women—civilian activists all—are viewed by the reactionary state as terrorists. And no doubt terror is what the macho-fascist Duterte regime feels before these women unbound; if you are a president whose policies and armed forces advance the interests of big landlords and the comprador bourgeoisie who benefit from the systemic oppression of women, then you have reason to be terrified of Sr. Ellen, Ka Angie, Joms, Tinay, Kiri, and other women like them who organize the people in principled defense of our rights. 

The regime is especially terrified of women like Cherryl who have devoted their lives to organizing the peasantry. Peasants, after all, make up the democratic majority of Filipinos. When the peasantry finally rises as one, what gets overthrown is more than this bankrupt regime; through their basic alliance with the proletariat, the peasantry can overthrow the moribund system of feudalism that serves as the social basis of imperialism.

REDTAGGED CIVILIAN: Cherryl Catalogo is an artist and peasant advocate from the legal mass movement currently imprisoned on fabricated charges stemming from the accusation that she is a member of the New People’s Army. (Photo from Sinagbayan.)

Philosopher-revolutionary Mao Zedong has famously declared that women hold up half the sky. What this means is they till half the land we need to seize back from big landlords and the corporations that hold it hostage to export our resources, endanger our food security, and thwart our national industrialization. What this means is they keep half the barricade strong, half the mass movement agile, and push the struggle for national democracy halfway to victory.

International Working Women’s Day was fought for by socialist women; this is a fact of history. It is only fitting that, on this day, we remind ourselves of the urgency to stand with the women who push for national democracy with a socialist perspective in a time of widespread state fascism. The macho-fascist Duterte regime vilifies them as communist-terrorists, when in fact it is the reactionary state under Duterte that perpetrates terrorism on the entire country—and its terrorism is the complete opposite of the communism, the total abolition of class oppression, that socialists have long been struggling for.

#AbanteBabae! Palaban, militante!

#FightTyranny! #EndImpunity! #JunkTerrorBill! #HandsOffAngieIpong! #HandsOffActivists! #FreeTheArtists! #FreeAllPoliticalPrisoners!

Tunay na reporma sa lupa, ipaglaban! #FreeLandDistribution now!

ARTISTS FOR PEASANTS: Artists of Sining na Naglilingkod sa Bayan or Sinagbayan join the International Working Women’s Day protest.
SAKA - Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo (Artist Alliance for Genuine Land Reform and Rural Development) is an anti-feudal alliance of art and cultural workers that support and advance the peasant agenda of genuine agrarian reform, rural development, and food security.