Igorot leader, 1st Filipina receives Gwangju Prize for Human Rights

Photo courtesy of Cordillera Peoples Alliance

“Human rights make us human. With every violation of human rights, our humanity is diminished.”


MANILA – Joanna Kintanar Cariño was awarded the 2019 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights on May 18 in Gwangju, South Korea.

Carino, a longtime activist is the first Filipina to receive the award, according to the May 18 Memorial Foundation.

“This is a vindication of my lifelong vocation to defend and promote democracy and human rights,” said Cariño in her speech during the awarding ceremony.

It is ironic, she said, that while President Duterte’s government labels human rights activists as terrorists, prestigious foreign institutions such as the “May 18 Memorial Foundation recognizes her human rights activism as honorable.”

Cariño was listed along with 600 others in the Department of Justice’s so-called terror list which seeks to proscribe the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as terrorist organizations. It was in January this year that their names were dropped from the list after they fought for its removal.

Last April, the May 18 Memorial Foundation announced that Cariño bagged this year’s Gwangju Prize for Human Rights due to her longtime commitment to human rights work in the Philippines.

Joanna Carino receive her award at Gwangju, South Korea. (Photo courtesy of Cordillera Peoples Alliance)

“Human rights make us human. With every violation of human rights, our humanity is diminished. The human spirit can only take so much oppression, however, before resistance develops. Repression breeds resistance. To stand up for human rights, to resist tyranny, and to rebel against an oppressive system is justified,” Cariño said.

“But we have to prepare ourselves for sacrifice and even death in the struggle against tyrants for people’s democracy and a better world. It is honorable to stand up for democracy and to defend human rights, especially for the less fortunate and downtrodden,” she added.

Cariño also urged the people to hold on to the lessons of the Gwangju Democratic Uprising and the 1986 People Power in the Philippines especially with the resurgence of tyranny and dictatorship.

“We should always remember, we should never forget. The people, united, shall never be defeated. Never again to martial law!” Cariño said.

Cariño shared her award to her organizations, the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, SELDA, an organization of former political detainees, and Sandugo National Alliance of Moros and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination.

Cariño is the founding secretary general and current member of the advisory council of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), regional council member of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) and chairperson of SELDA-North Luzon.

During Marcos’ era martial law, Cariño was arrested, tortured and detained for two years.

But her detention did not stop her from continuing in human rights work. Cariño was among the founders of the CPA in 1984, and served first as its treasurer, then as secretary-general from 1985 to 1987.

She also served as the convener of the CPA’s International Solidarity Commission and later of its Research Commission. She coordinated the Ancestral Domain Research Network (ADRN) in the 1990s which did research into ancestral land issues in the Cordillera region. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

Related story: Cordillera woman leader bags 2019 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights

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