The Courage and Commitment of Judy Taguiwalo

Online and in the streets, Judy Taguiwalo is an inspiration to a new generation of Filipino activists, particularly women activists. Her world view is shaped by our nation’s history — a history that not too many Filipinos had the courage to confront nor the opportunity or inclination to take part in. She insists on correcting mistakes and learning from them. And she roasts a mean chicken with Kikkoman and lemon grass.


MANILA — She’s a fixture not just in rallies and demonstrations but on Facebook as well.

Judy Taguiwalo (Photo by Raymund Villanueva /

In the real world, Judy Taguiwalo is a firebrand, an activist who advocates several issues: academic freedom, human rights, equality, to name a few of them.

She teaches at the University of the Philippines, where she is also the faculty regent. Recently, she’s been in the thick of things on campus, campaigning, for instance, against the politics there that have sidelined colleagues and make a mockery of academic freedom.

Online, she is a constant presence, her updates on Facebook providing the new generation of Filipino activists a peek into the mind of one of the country’s most committed and most respected activists.

She checks her Facebook account at least twice a day, in the morning and before going to bed, because online activism can contribute, she says, to efforts to “arouse, to organize and to mobilize, which is a primary duty in building the women’s movement.”

She uses Facebook not just to agitate people intellectually but even to extend assistance where it is needed, for example to colleagues and fellow activists who have gotten sick and needed help. “The problem of inaccessible health care for the many, including professionals, is illustrated by the need for assistance of three of our colleagues,” she wrote recently.

Offline, she cooks a mean roasted chicken (coated with Kikkoman sauce, a bit of salt and lemon grass) although she confesses to not having the time to cook every day, unless she’s got company. She spends her free time relaxing at home, watching TV, taking care of her plants, and reading biographical books.

Judy Taguiwalo does not shy away from worthy causes. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea /

Occasionally, she bitches about the high cost of everything. “With the high water and electric charges and other high-priced commodities, I, like the others, have debts in the UP credit union, the GSIS and some friends,” she quips.

Online, she often reminds people of the things that matter. “Galing, maliban sa puro lalaki ang imahen ng kahirapan pati na ang mga nag-rap,” she commented on Facebook about a video made by Brillante Mendoza for ABS-CBN’s AmBisyon2010 campaign.

World View

Judy’s world view is shaped, more or less, by our history — a history that not too many Filipinos had the courage to confront nor the opportunity, let alone the inclination, to take part in.

Her notable history sets an example to the activists of today. From martial law to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s regime, Judy, 60, has been an active player in the people’s struggle.

A promdi (“from the province”), she finished her secondary education at Negros Occidental High School in Bacolod City and entered UP at the age of 15.

In 1969, she became a member of the Nationalist Corps, a committee of the student council. She and other students immersed themselves in the life of workers and farmers.

“I went to Jalajala , Rizal, and learned from the peasants. At night, we discussed our experiences . We witnessed their extreme poverty. There was no health center and the pregnant women were not taken care of. There was no staff. When we were there, the midwife at the center was on maternity leave. Women who were due for delivery had to cross the Laguna Lake to get to the hospital,” she narrates.

She had learned the basic foundations of her activism from Catechism. “The principle of serving the less fortunate is already there,” she says. But the radical analysis of the situation and the answers to her questions — Why is there poverty? for one — came to her while she was in the nationalist core. She subsequently became a member of the Samahang Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK), a radical youth group at the time.

There were many turning points in her life as an activist, Judy says, but “it all began when I graduated from UP in 1970, where I decided to work as a full-time organizer.”

That same year, she and other activist-students started to join the series of rallies that came to be known as the First Quarter Storm. “We were really brutally attacked, many of us got hurt.” The violence served only to raise her consciousness. “I read about Philippine history, the books of [Renato] Constantino and [Teodoro] Agoncillo and books on the Vietnam War.”

Makibaka and Detention

The Malayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababihan (Makibaka) was born that same year. “It was formed as a coordinating body of women activists, not as a separate organization. The women activists who formed Makibaka were members of different national-democratic youth organizations. We discussed and agreed to address women’s issues,” Judy says.

The founding of Makibaka was an important landmark in the history of the women’s movement in the Philippines. It was a milestone, needless to say, on Judy’s own political maturation.

As a kick-off protest, the group held a rally against the Bb. Pilipinas pageant at the Araneta Coliseum. Makibaka thought the beauty contest commodified women. They also protested the ostentatious celebration of the 25th wedding anniversary of one of the Lopez families, denouncing particularly the fountain of champagne during the party, in a time of so much poverty.

Judy Taguiwalo (left) in a scuffle with the police during a protest to oppose President Arroyo visit to UP Diliman in December. (Photo by Om Narayan A. Velasco / Philippine Collegian)

Makibaka members later immersed themselves and took root in urban-poor communities. They joined demonstrations, strikes of workers and protests of farmers. They also organized mothers of the urban poor and helped them build daycare centers.

Makibaka also held the first commemoration of International Women’s Day in the Philippines on March 8, 1971. A “March of Women Against Poverty” was held from Plaza Bustillos in Sampaloc to Mendiola. When martial law was declared, Makibaka, like many progressive organizations, went underground.

Judy had been detained twice. The first time was in July 1973, when she was arrested in Iloilo and was brutally tortured. She was transferred to Cebu and later on was brought to the Ipil-Ipil detention center in Fort Bonifacio. On Nov. 1, 1974, she escaped, along with two other female detainees and three male political prisoners.

But even while in prison, her defiance was unbreakable. In December 1973, she and the other detainees went on hunger strike in Camp Lapu-Lapu in Cebu after a guard beat up a male political detainee. The female detainees waved red cloth during the strike and sang “Martsa ng Kababaihan (March of Women).”

Her second arrest was in Angeles, Pampanga, on Jan. 28, 1984. She was four months pregnant at the time with her second child. She gave birth inside prison on June 15, 1984. Together with her daughter Inday June, they were released after People Power 1.

University Life

Her release from prison and the triumph of the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship did not dampen the idealism and the enthusiasm of Judy to continue serving the people.

Judy Taguiwalo speaking at a protest in UP denouncing the removal of Dr. Jose Gonzales as director of the Philippine General Hospital. (Photo courtesy of Judy Taguiwalo)

In 1970, after graduating cum laude from UP and obtaining her master’s degree in Public Administration in 1992 in Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, she started teaching at the UP College of Social Work and Community Development .

Teaching afforded her an opportunity to preach what she had long practiced, contributing as a result to UP’s long tradition as a breeding ground not just for radicals but also for Filipinos who are able to think critically about social issues.

And her teaching load notwithstanding, she maintains a connection with the untenured members of the faculty and other staff in the university. She was instrumental in the formation of the academic union and the UP All Workers Alliance. The alliance comprised of the faculty, researchers, and rank-and-file employees that fought for their rights and welfare. The alliance won concrete gains such as rice subsidy, three-day additional leave, additional nursing leave and centennial bonus.

Because of her active leadership in the academic union and the alliance, Judy was elected to represent the faculty in the Board of Regents.

Arroyo and Martial Law

But even inside the confines of a university known for its activist history, the streets always beckoned Judy, in the past nine years particularly.

“During martial law, it was clear that the Philippines was under a dictatorship. But now, there is no declaration of martial law and yet there is an unabashed violation of human rights,” she says. “This was evident in the case of the 43 health workers and the Ampatuan massacre. Also, the progressive party list groups are being attacked by the government.”

She bewails that many Filipinos are unemployed, and prices of food and other basic commodities are very high. She says members of the political elite are still the ones who hold power, like Enrile, Marcos and Cojuangco. “Replacing the ones in power is not sufficient to address the real problem of our nation,” she says.

Judy Taguiwalo in a UP forum on the removal of Dr. Jose Gonzales as director of the Philippine General Hospital. (Photo by Dr. Iggy Agbayani)

“We have no other resort but to act and do something unless we want to let this nation be governed by the likes of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a puppet, fascist and corrupt,” she adds.

Woman of Courage

In recognition of her contribution not only to the people’s movement but also to the causes of women, Gabriela recently honored Judy as one of the group’s “Women of Courage,” an award given in celebration of its 25th anniversary.

“She is inspiring for us women because she is a well-respected woman in the movement,” says Lana Linaban, secretary-general of Gabriela. “Wherever she goes, whatever tasks she takes on, she never fails to advance women’s rights and welfare.”

And Judy’s concern for the welfare of the masses and of women is not mere rhetoric or some ideological razzmatazz. Rina Anastacio of Migrante, a friend since the ‘80s, calls her one of the most generous and kind human beings she’s ever met. She recalls the time when both of them were with Amihan (National Federation of Peasant Women); Judy made sure that Rina, who had just given birth when she started working for the group, would have somebody to care for her newborn while at work.

“I easily got comfortable with her because of her warm welcome of me in Amihan,” Rina tells Bulatlat.

Judy, Rina shares, is a good story-teller. “She was a good propagandist,” she says. “Many were riveted by her stories of detention, her arrest, her experience as a single mother raising her daughter in prison. But she could also capture the rapt attention of her audience even when talking about the plight of peasant women or even the most mundane things about her life.”

Around friends, Judy can be comic, even wacky. When asked about this, a friend in the university, Roland Tolentino, dean of the College of Mass Communications, replied: “Yes, she is, even without meaning to.”

And yes, Rina adds, “her stories were funny and full of life but I think the main reason why she could command that kind of attention was because one could sense passion and sincerity in her voice with a lilting Ilongga accent.”

Together with friends Neng and Pearl, the four loved going to the movies together. They would just hang out afterward and talk about “nothing and everything.” They also loved to eat and would host little dinners for each other or for other friends.

Their families are friends. They confide and discuss with each other issues and problems. To Rina, Judy is a friend, teacher, family, adviser, comrade and stand-up comic all rolled into one. Around Judy, friends are comfortable enough to discuss not just personal matters but even their mistakes in the movement. She would then make sure that these mistakes are corrected, Rina says.

Judy showing off her senior-citizen card during her 60th birthday celebration in February. (Photo by Karl Ramirez)

In her many years in the people’s movement, Judy herself admits that she had had moments of doubts, dilemmas and vacillations.

What gives her the strength to push on are martyrs like Lorena Barros, who was killed during the martial law years. “She was my contemporary,” she says. “What is my sacrifice compared to hers?”

She takes inspiration as well from student activists inside the university. “This generation embraces and advances the aspirations of the people, which has historical roots not only in the FQS but also in the time of Andres Bonifacio,” she points out.

Correcting mistakes and learning from them are crucial in the struggle for social justice, Judy tells Bulatlat. “The correctness of ideas emanate from debates and the correctness of resolutions is reflected by actual results. The solution to any problem is to take a stand, believe in your decision and see its correctness through practice.”

Judy Taguiwalo may not know this but some of her friends swear she makes them better comrades. (

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  1. I came home from work one night and wasn't feeling well. I went online on Facebook and posted something like "I'm tired" on my wall. Few seconds later, tita Judy posted back, "Yakap". I haven't even met her in person but she did made me feel better. Mabuhay ka tita Judy!! You are indeed an inspiration!


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