Rosanna Cabusao, an activist, writer, women’s rights advocate, mother

“It was as if they were after Osama Bin Laden. Sa ganda kong ito? Pambihira naman.”

Related story: Friends, colleagues call for release of activist-writer, other women political prisoners

By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – At past 11 p.m. of June 1, Rosanna Cabusao, or Sharon to her friends and colleagues, heard voices outside her house. Someone said, “Hoy, dito!” (Here) Then there was banging on the gate. When no one came out from their house, the men destroyed the gate and forced their way in.

Cabusao said the men whom she described as “men in black” were about 50, all heavily armed.

“It was as if they were after Osama Bin Laden. Sa ganda kong ito? Pambihira naman,” Cabusao jested as she narrated how she was arrested. Friends and colleagues visited her in the holding area of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Cabusao was charged with illegal possession of firearms and harbouring a criminal. The alleged criminal is her husband, National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Adelberto Silva who holds a Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) ID.

Sharon and her daughter Elize share a light moment at the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Camp Crame. (Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat.com)
Sharon and her daughter Elize share a light moment at the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Camp Crame. (Phot by A. Umil/ Bulatlat.com)

On June 16, Cabusao was visited by her former colleagues at Gabriela and Pinoy Weekly, of which she was a former member of the editorial board, after a gathering at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani which called for her release. Bulatlat.com joined the visit and was able to interview Cabusao.

Writer

For years, Cabusao was Gabriela’s public information officer, and later, became a researcher and consultant of Crispin B. Beltran Resource Center (CBBRC). But aside from writing press releases, speeches of other women leaders, and research papers, Cabusao wrote and published poems and short stories.

She said that among her favorite writers include Amado V. Hernandez, and Deogracias A. Rosario who wrote the short story, Walang Panginoon. Among her favorite foreign writers are Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Emile Zola, a French writer.

She was also a fellow of the Silliman University National Writers Workshop and the UP National Writers Workshop in the 1990s.

Cabusao also contributed articles and film critiques in the lifestyle section of mainstream newspapers, such as the Manila Chronicle and the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Helen Simplina, her colleague at the CBBRC, said they refer to her as “Ateng,” who loves to listen and write stories of the people that she encounters every day.

After her work in Gabriela, Cabusao helped in other people’s organizations, like Kilusang Mayo Uno, and later became a research consultant of the CBBRC. “I went into research because many issues in the labor force need to be analyzed.”

Before the arrest, Cabusao said she was doing research on workers in the export processing zones. Her research output was among those seized by the CIDG. Sole copies of her literary works and writings were also among those confiscated.

“It was a lifetime of work that they (CIDG) seized,” she said. Cabusao said with the help of her fellow writers, she will assert to get back her written works.

‘Smooth operator’

Cabusao started out as a student activist.

Rosario Bella Guzman, head of the research department of independent think-tankIbon Foundation, remembered Cabusao as a “smooth operator” during their days as students at the University of the Philippines-Manila.

Cabusao, a Development Studies major, was then a member of the UP Student Catholic Action (UPSCA)-Manila, the strongest student organization then.

She said Cabusao was among the founders of the Katipunan Alliance Party in UP-Manila in the 1980s.

Cabusao said during that time, there was already a rise in student activism in UP-Manila. Marcos was becoming unpopular and there was a strong demand for the restoration of the student council. The arrest, search and seizure order (Asso) was prevalent and repression in campuses was also rampant. Katipunan Party called for change to break the silence – “a platform that espouses academic freedom and change for the country.”

“She went around the different organization on a daily basis and when the alliance was formed, the Katipunan Party won a landslide election – a first in the history of student council elections,” Guzman said that the landslide election was sustained for three years.

Cabusao was also chairperson of the Katipunan Party and vice chairperson of UPSCA.

After Katipunan, she became a member of the Samahan ng Mag-aaral na Kababaihan (Samaka), the equivalent of Gabriela youth at that time. She said Samaka started with three chapters in the University Belt, but in eight months, it grew to 21 chapters. It was the height of student demonstrations and boycotts against Marcos, she said.

A mother

Among the visitors were Cabusao’s only daughter, Elize Fuertez, 31. Elize said that at a young age, she had witnessed her mother’s dedication to work in the mass movement.

She would tag along with her mother in meetings and also rallies.

“The Gabriela office was my playground for quite some time,” she said. As a child, she always looked forward to go to the Gabriela office where she enjoyed staying, playing with the children of her mother’s colleagues, and joining workshops.

Elize said her mother was away from home most of the time. “But she would surely be there when I get sick. And when she was not around, she would write me a long letter, which included a sermon,” Elize quipped.

When her mother was around, they often watched movies, went for a picnic in Nayong Pilipino or Fort Santiago. They also watched stage plays, particularly in UP. She also remembers watching films of Nora Aunor, of whom her mother is a fan.

The detention in the holding area of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Camp Crame where Sharon Cabusao and Adelberto Silva is detained. Their companion Isidro de Lima is also detained in  the next cell. (Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat.com)
The detention in the holding area of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Camp Crame where Sharon Cabusao and Adelberto Silva is detained. Their companion Isidro de Lima is also detained in the next cell. (Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat.com)
Her mother’s absence taught her to be self-reliant. “I was forced to become independent,” she said.

But from the start, Elize said, she did not have any resentment against her mother, as she understands her work. “She explained to me that she was working in the women’s movement to eliminate inequality, poverty and for justice,” she told Bulatlat.com.

“She taught me to be courageous, especially when it is your right and it is correct, fight for it,” Elize said.

No reason for sadness

When Elize saw her mother for the first time at the CIDG detention, she said Cabusao had lost weight drastically.

She said she knows they did not commit any crime and there is no reason to feel down.

“My mother told me not to worry, because there is no truth to what the government is saying. All the evidence is planted,” she said.

True enough, Cabusao and her husband have no trace of despair over their arrest. “It is important that there is support from outside,” she said.

The arresting police team only had a warrant of arrest against Silva, while Cabusao and their driver, De Lima were arrested without a warrant.

Despite her condition and their dire situation in the holding area of CIDG, they are “not demoralized.”

Their detention cell is too narrow for two to three persons, and has no proper ventilation, and they can smell chemical fumes coming from a nearby construction. An electric fan was provided by Gabriela.

“There is no reason to be depressed. Being in prison is just another arena of struggle, and there is no reason to be disheartened. We will carry on,” said Cabusao. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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