These young women are among the many children of activists who have taken their parents’ place in the fight for justice and democracy.
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Manobo lass Michelle Campos looks willowy and petite, but she can stand in front of a crowd and leave them awe-struck, stirred by her forceful words and strong demeanor. Morena and long-haired, she speaks with fire in her voice and in her eyes.
Michelle’s father was Dionel or “Onel,” chairperson of the Manobo group Malahutayong Pakigbisog alang sa Sumusunod (Persevering Struggle for the Next Generation), who was killed, public execution-style, by Magahat-Bagani paramilitary men working with soldiers in Surigao del Sur on Sept. 1.
Only 17, she took time off from college and has since been immersed in the #StopLumadKillings campaign, and now one of the leading voices of Manilakbayan ng Mindanao.
Michelle is just the latest among many children of slain activists, now making waves of their own to build up the tsunami of social change that is the mass movement.
A Manilakbayan protest at Camp Aguinaldo on Nov. 9 brought together Michelle, who is from Caraga region in Mindanao, sisters Ara and Dana Marie Marcellana from Southern Tagalog, and Nikki Gamara of Manila – all daughters of leaders, now, all sisters in the struggle.
Ara, 18, and Dana Marie, 19 are the daughters of Eden Marcellana, the feisty leader of Karapatan-Southern Tagalog who was abducted and killed in Mindoro in 2003, along with peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy of Katipunan ng Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (Kasama-TK).
Eden tirelessly investigated and exposed the spate of human rights violations in the region, perpetrated by military death squads under the command of Jovito Palparan Jr., then only a colonel and commander of the Philippine Army unit in Mindoro.
Nikki is the daughter of Renante Gamara, peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) who had been detained since 2012. After his arrest, police produced an arrest warrant on kidnapping with murder charges, in which his name was only inserted.
Their parents have fallen victim to brutal counterinsurgency programs, Oplan Bayanihan and Oplan Bantay Laya. But their parents were activists, and they grew up being molded with their values, of critical thinking, courage to act, and selflessness.
Courage as fuel to the torch
When their mother was killed, Ara and Dana Marie were only small children, regularly seen tugging along with their father, Orly, a Southern Tagalog peasant leader and a firebrand, who continues to seek justice, not just for his wife, but for all victims of human rights violations, whose number continues to rise.
“What happened to Michelle and her father, it’s the same thing that happened to us, when we lost Nanay. She was the secretary general of Karapatan, a leader who was vocal and firm in her stand,” said Ara.
“We’re the same, children of leaders who were killed, who have now taken up their parents’ cause,” said Dana Marie.
Ara now works with Kasama-TK, while Dana Marie is with Sulong Katribu partylist-Southern
They, too, are moved to tears, like many others who hear Michelle speak about the injustice her family suffered. But her courage feeds the fire in the torch that they now hold up for their parents.
“Imbes na panghihinaan ka ng loob, nakakapagpatibay,” said Ara.
“It makes us all proud that we are children of martyrs, and we’re here to continue where they left off,” Dana Marie said.
Nikki, 26, who has been at the forefront of the campaign to free all political prisoners, said she is just as impressed and inspired, seeing Michelle.
“She’s just 17, but when she speaks, you see her maturity, her conviction – nakakabilib,” Nikki said.
“I hope that there are more who are like us, children of slain leaders and political prisoners, who will join the united ranks, who will follow their parents’ footsteps, and make a stand,” Nikki said. “We show the government that they may imprison or kill leaders, but in the place of one will be three, four more.”
Her two siblings are also activists.
“Government itself is the reason why many more youths are joining the struggle, bringing more energy and fervour into the fight,” she said.
Ara and Dana Marie grew up without a mother, but were raised by their parents’ comrades, the whole Southern Tagalog family of activists.
Nikki still works to have her father freed, and her circle of family and friends has now grown bigger to include human rights workers and advocates, in the country and abroad.
“I have not lost a father,” Michelle once said at a Mendiola protest. “I see even more Dionel Camposes now among you.” Many may also say that they see Dionel Campos, the fearless Lumad leader, in his daughter Michelle.