Marie Hilao-Enriquez, not an ordinary mother

Ligaya (second from right), sister of Marie, receives a portrait of the human rights icon from Karapatan. (Photo by R. Olea / Bulatlat)


MANILA – Funny, compassionate, tireless. These are some of the words friends, comrades and colleagues described Marie Hilao Enriquez in a tribute at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, May 4.

While some were emotional, there were also bouts of laughter as many of those who worked with Enriquez, or Tita Marie for many, recounted how she knew to make things light too amid the difficult and challenging human rights work.

“She has this ability, this sense of timing that makes us laugh amid everything,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said in Filipino.

“Tita Marie would simply say, ‘the news we receive is sad so we must also learn to have fun and laugh in the middle of the struggle’,” Palabay added.

Compassion for the victims of rights violations

Edith Burgos, mother of the disappeared activist Jonas, said she cannot forget Tita Marie’s empathy. “She really knows how to stand in the shoes of the oppressed,” Burgos said.

Mrs. Burgos said that even though she worked for 20 years in We Forum where they published stories of human rights violations during the Marcos dictatorship, she cannot understand the phenomenon of desaparecidos until it happened to her son.

We Forum was a newspaper founded by her husband, journalist Jose “Joe” Burgos Jr. during the martial law of Ferdinand Marcos Sr.

“When I first met Marie, a few days after Jonas was taken in 2007, she was silent all through out. I could not forget her eyes. There was pity, there was compassion, but there was also anger, and courage,” Burgos said, adding that Marie once whispered to her, “Magbabayad din yang mga demonyong yan.” (The devils would pay for their crimes one day.)

Marie, she added, would always check on them despite her mountain of work whenever they, the families of the disappeared, are in the office of Karapatan.

“It was not only sympathy and concrete assistance. All the support possible that the office could provide to the Desaparecidos within its very limited resources was not spared. She and her staff gave us hope for justice by opening new doors for us,” she said.

Marie accompanied families of the disappeared and killed to international fora, such as the United Nations in Geneva, so that they could tell their stories.

The same was also shared by Evangeline Hernandez, mother of slain campus journalist Benjaline “Beng” Hernandez. She said that they were encouraged by Marie to bring their call to stop the killings in the Philippines outside the country until their group Hustisya was founded.

“Tita Marie was an ideal mother and comrade for us, families of the victims. She was a good example of serving the oppressed and our inspiration to continue with our struggle,” Hernandez said.

International lobbying

Marie did not only amplify the voices of the victims and their families in the Philippines but also in the international community.

Mervin Toquero of National Council of Churches in the Philippines said that after bringing the Let the Stones Cry Out, an ecumenical report on human rights in the Philippines in the US, Canada and UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Marie and the late Fr. Joe Dizon suggested to form the alliance called the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights in the Philippines.

This report, aside from the report of former UN Special Rapporteur Philip on the extrajudicial killings in the country, became instrumental in stopping the killing of activists under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Marie also led the formation of the Philippine Universal Periodic Review and since then, from 2008 until 2012, she would go to Geneva every year to lobby.

“She had been persistent that in encouraging church people and people’s organizations to engage to the UN Human Rights Council,” Toquero said.

“Tita Marie would always underscore the importance of bringing the voices of the victims of human rights violations into the corridors of power to attain accountability and justice. She was the epitome of victim’s amplifying their voices because she was a victim as well as her sister,” Toquero said.

“This is why it is easy to lobby in the UNHRC because we were mentored by Tita Marie in the UN human rights mechanisms. We have maximized this venue to counter the government’s narrative that human rights situation in the Philippines is good,” he added.

Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) corroborated this.

Olalia said it was in 2003 when they first went to the UN. In 2007, Tita Marie was also a witness in the sub-committee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs on the US Senate’s foreign relations committee. He said this was instrumental in hindering US military assistance to the Philippines.

Olalia also said that Marie wass also part of the drafting of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), the first signed peace agreement of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Philippine government.

“Tita Marie is instrumental in closing Article 5, Marcos compensation of the CARHRIHL before both parties signed this document,” Olalia said.

She was also the first independent observer to the Joint Monitoring Committee of the CARHRIHL.

“Tita Marie is a trailblazer,” Olalia said.

Her years of doing international lobbying at the UN made herself familiar to Geneva, including how to survive there with a tight budget, Toquero said.

Burgos said Marie “became the mother, the cook, and baby sitter rolled into one” while they were in Geneva.

Palabay also said Tita Marie taught them how to engage with government officials and how to file reports. She also taught them where to photocopy their documents for free and where to buy cheap food. “She also advised us to bring one kilo of rice whenever we would go to Geneva.”

“More than anything, she taught us to always speaking truth to power,” Palabay said.

‘Honor Tita Marie by not letting the Marcoses return to Malacañang’

In their video message, Marie Hilao-Enriquez’s daughters Liza and Andrea say the fitting tribute to their mother is to continue her fight against tyranny, and not allow Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to become president. (Photo by R. Olea)

Marie’s two daughters, Andrea and Liza, meanwhile expressed their gratitude to all those who extended condolences to their family.

They remembered their mother as funny, humorous and most of all loving. “Whenever she had trips abroad, she always made sure to give us even small pasalubong,” Liza said.

They also said that highest tribute that one can make for Tita Marie is to not let Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. win the elections.

Tita Lubi, chairperson of Karapatan, also pledged not to waver amid tyranny, and not let Marcoses sabotage the elections.

“Marie dedicated her life in advancing and defending people’s rights – and in the face of a massive human rights crisis in the Philippines as well as the threat of a Marcos restoration and Duterte extension, we turn towards Marie’s life and legacy as a courageous human rights defender as our guiding light in the continuing struggle against tyranny and fascism,” said Palabay in a statement.

“As we approach the upcoming elections, we call on all freedom-loving Filipinos to honor Marie and the many other heroes and martyrs of martial law by fighting for our hard-won rights and freedoms. We are all called to firmly reject the Marcos and Dutertes in the elections and beyond, and, like Marie, we are compelled to relentlessly pursue justice and to hold them accountable for their crimes against the Filipino people,” she added. (RVO) (

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