Gawad Eden Marcellana: GEMs for the People

These women may come from different roots and from various fields but all of them have shown exemplary commitment to the service of the people. They are true gems of the Filipino people.

Vol. VII, No. 45, December 16-22, 2007

Fourteen women were recipients of this year’s Gawad Eden Marcellana (GEM). The awardees come from different roots and various fields. Common among them was their exemplary commitment and service to the Filipino people.

The award was named after Eden Marcellana, former secretary general of Karapatan-Southern Tagalog from 2000 until 2003, who, together with peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy, was killed April 2003 by soldiers under the command of then Col Jovito Palparan Jr. in the island of Mindoro.

Launched in 2004 by Karapatan-ST and Southern Tagalog Exposure, the first recipients of GEM include Carmen ‘Nanay Mameng’ Deunida, Luz Baculo, Adeliza Albarillo and Marie Hilao-Enriquez. This year’s recipients are no less courageous and equally deserving. The awarding ceremony was held on Dec. 11, Eden’s birthday, at the St. Cecilia’s Hall, St. Scholastica’s College in Manila.

Mother of martyr turned human rights advocate

What should a mother of slain activist do other than mourn the death of a son or daughter?

Erlinda Manano, mother of Isias, found the answer. She was a teacher in a public high school before she became the spokesperson of Bayani(Heroes)-Mindoro Oriental and later, Martir ng Bayan (Martyrs of the Country), organizations of families of victims of human rights violations. She represented their group in many forums here and abroad.

In her acceptance speech, Nanay Erlinda said, “Hindi maaaring kalimutan ang nakaraan sapagkat ito ang salalayan kung saan ako naroon ngayon.” (The past must not be forgotten for it is the foundation of where I am right now.)

She related that she could have opted to wallow in misery but she remembered her son. She said, “Hindi iyon ang gusto niyang mangyari. Hindi ganoon ang pakikibaka.” (That’s not what he wanted. That is not the way of struggle.) The award, she said, is a testimony that Isias succeeded.

In a short video prepared by Southern Tagalog Exposure, Ilek, younger sister of Isias, related, “Sabi niya, hindi na lang ito para sa kuya mo, hindi na lang ito para sa pamilya natin kundi para sa iba pang mga biktima ng paglabag sa karapatang pantao…Hanga ako sa kanyang tibay ng loob para ipursigi ang paghahanap ng katarungan.” (She would tell us, this is not only for your brother or for our family. This is for the other victims of human rights violations. I admire her strength in pursuing justice.)

Nanay Erlinda also thanked her colleagues who guided her in her work.

Urban poor leader

Nanay Mameng Deunida presented the GEM to another urban poor leader, Lourdes Rubrico.

Lourdes, Nanay Ode for many, is the chairperson of Ugnayan ng mga Maralita (Association of the Poor) in Dasmarinas, Cavite. In April 2006, she was abducted and illegally detained by elements of the military. Later, she was released after being forced to sign a paper agreeing that she will work as a military asset.

In a video, Her daughter Jean, said that since the Marcos dictatorship, her mother had joined organizations.

In the same video, Tatay Pogi, a colleague in the organization, says of Nanay Ode, “Hindi siya natatakot…laging masigasig. Sinasabi niya, ‘Huwag kayong susuko. Ilaban na lang natin ito.” (She is not afraid…always persevering. She says, ‘Don’t give up. Let’s take on the fight.)

Jean said,”Senior citizen na, lumalaban pa. Kayang isakripisyo ng nanay ko ang buhay niya para sa iba. Inspirasyon namin siya.” (She’s already a senior citizen but she is still fighting. She can sacrifice her life for others. She is our inspiration.)

As soon as she reached the center stage to accept the GEM, Nanay Ode raised her clenched fist. She was wearing a simple blouse and a pair of pants. She said, “Hindi para sa sarili ko ito. Inspirasyon ko ang mga kasamang nagbuwis ng buhay para manindigan…Hindi ako titigil sa pag-oorganisa at pagmumulat sa mamamayan.” (This is not for my self. They who have sacrificed their life for a principle are my inspiration…I will not cease organizing and awakening the masses.)

Peasant leader

Edelisa Lustria or Nanay Edeling is a petite woman fighting the powerful. She was involved in the struggles against landfill in Montalban, against quarrying and against Laiban Dam.
She is one of the leaders of Kasama-Rizal, an organization of peasants allied with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).

In a video, Fe Duldulao, a teacher, said of Nanay Edeling, “Napakahusay na local leader. Lagi niyang alam ang sinasabi niya, sa harap man ng militar o sa harap ng landlords.” (She is a great local leader. She always knows what to say, even in front of the military or in front of landlords.)

Duldulao said Nanay Edeling does not mind walking for hours. Duldulao said, “Sabi niya, wala nang pamasahe pero tuloy lang ang laban.” (She would say, we don’t have money for transportation but the struggle continues.)

Nanay Edeling said, “Ang nagpatatag sa akin, nagpatibay sa akin ay ang pagpaslang kay Ka Eden at ang naiwan niyang gawain. Kahit ilang berdugo ang humarang, hindi nila kayang puksain sa aking katauhan ang paglaban.”(The death of Ka Eden and the work he left behind made me strong. No matter how many fascists come my way, they will not succeed in killing my conviction to struggle.)

Women’s representative

Liza Largoza-Maza’s name has been synonymous to Gabriela,the militant organization of women in the Philippines. Today, she serves as the representative of Gabriela Women’s Party.

Maza finished BS Economics at the University of the Philippines. She taught shortly at the St. Scholastica’s College, became a researcher for various organizations before joining Gabriela. She served as the organization’s secretary general for 14 years.

In 2001, Bayan Muna won three seats in Congress. Maza joined Satur Ocampo and Crispin Beltran at the House of Representatives. In 2004, the Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) ran for party-list and won one seat. This year, GWP gained two seats in Congress.

Rep. Maza co-authored Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act and Anti-violence against Women and Children Act.

Fe Ramirez, a member of Gabriela in Batasan Hills, related, “Pumupunta siya sa amin. Personal niya kaming kinakausap. Sa kanya, natutunan namin na dapat mong ipaglaban ang iyong karapatan.” (She visits us. She personally talks with us. From her, we have learned that we must fight for our rights.)

Liza said that the she considers the award as recognition to the collective efforts of Gabriela and GWP in championing the rights of women and children.

“Ang pakikibaka ay hindi sakripisyo kundi makatarungang landas sa isang lipunang punong-puno ng pagsasamantala,” she said. (The struggle is not a sacrifice but rather a just journey in a society where exploitation abounds.)

Diagnosing the ills of society

This doctor has chosen to be a doctor for the Filipino people, diagnosing the ills of Philippine society.

Dr. Carol Pagaduan Araullo, chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), has been molded by many years of activism. She became involved in the national democratic movement during the First Quarter Storm (FQS).

Bonifacio Ilagan, also a member of FQS, described Carol as articulate. “She was involved in campus politics, became a radical. When martial law was declared, she went underground until she was arrested.”

Ilagan said, “Detention could be a deterrent para sa mga mahihina ang tuhod…pero nagpatuloy si Carol. Iniugnay niya sa mass work ang pagiging doktor.”(Detention could be a deterrent for those whose knees are weak…but Carol continued. She linked her profession to mass work.)

Upon release from detention, Carol went back to school, graduated magna cum laude. She took up and finished medicine. For a while, she practiced community medicine.

Carol’s son, Atom, described his mother as focused and intense when at work.

The recipient thanked her family and her colleagues at Bayan for enduring her ‘sungit and katarayan’ (temper and tactlessness) whenever she is at work.

She said, “Ang lahat ng dunong, lahat ng tibay ay dahil sa pagpapanday ng kilusan…Ang gawad na ito ay para sa bayan, tungo sa bayan.” (All wisdom, all strength have been forged by the movement…This award is for the people, toward the people.”

Serving beyond the Convent

Coni Ledesma came from a family of landlords in Negros. She graduated from Mary Knoll (now Miriam) College and became a nun of the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS). She taught shortly at St. Bridget’s College.

She became an activist during the 1970s. She helped in founding the Christians for National Liberation (CNL), a member organization of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). In 1973, she was arrested. She was detained for one and a half years. Upon her release, she joined the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP). Later, she left the congregation and worked full time for the revolutionary movement.

In a video, Luis Jalandoni, husband of Coni Ledesma and NDFP chief negotiator, related that Connie’s integration with sugar workers in Negros led to her awakening. Jalandoni said Connie could not forget the words of one mother, “Kung hindi kami makikibaka, walang kinabukasan ang aming anak.” (If we do not struggle, our children will have no future.)

Coni joined the 34-kilometer march of sugar workers from Victoria plantation to Bacolod. Jalandoni said she also actively supported the strike of La Tondeña workers in 1975.

Jalandoni said, “Nakita niya ang pangangailangan ng demokratikong rebolusyong bayan.”(She saw the need for a national democratic revolution.) “She has devoted 35 years of commitment and service to the people.”

In her acceptance speech read by Susan dela Paz, Coni said that the Filipino people must persevere in the struggle against exploitation and foreign domination, in the struggle for the rights of workers, peasants, women, indigenous people and other marginalized sectors.


Eight of this year’s GEM recipients are martyrs of the Filipino people. Sinagbayan’s cultural performance served as a tribute to them.

Benjaline “Beng” Hernandez, human rights worker and former vice president for Mindanao of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), was slain by elements of the military on April 5, 2002 in Arakan Valley, North Cotabato.

Armida “Bambi” Santos, a staff member of Bayan, was also killed by elements of the military in October 2000 in Zamboanga del Sur. She graduated from Miriam College and became editor of Chi-rho, student publication of Miriam College. She was also one of the founding members of Karapatan.

Colleagues composed the song “Awit kay Bambi” as a tribute for her. The song was sang by Bayang Barrios during the gathering.

Cristina Catalla, Jessica Sales and Rizalina Ilagan were among those abducted by elements of the military in July 1977. They remain missing.

Cristina was a writer and student of the University of the Philippines in Los Baños (UPLB). Jessica was a researcher, teacher and church worker. She was a founding member of Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP).Rizalina was still in high school when she joined Kabataang Makabayan (KM). She became the regional coordinator of KM-Southern Tagalog, writer for underground publication Kalatas and a leader of cultural group Panday Sining.

Red fighters

Women who embraced armed revolutionary struggle were also recognized.

Ma. Lorena Barros fought the Marcos dictatorship. She became a founding member of Makabayang Kilusan ng Malayang Kababaihan (Makibaka). When Marcos declared martial law, she joined the New People’s Army and died in battle.

Even if Cherith Dayrit-Garcia came from a family of landlords in Pampanga, she chose to serve the peasants and gave the ultimate sacrifice. On July 16, 2000, Cherith died as an NPA cadre in Isabela.

Raquel Aumentado, an NPA member and cultural worker, was killed in an encounter in 2006. She was a singer, poet, story writer.

True gems

These women may come from different roots and from various fields but all of them have shown exemplary commitment to the service of the people. They are true gems of the Filipino people. Bulatlat

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