“Let me pay tribute to them.”
My organization, the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP) celebrated its 35th anniversary last March 8, coinciding with the commemoration of the International Women’s Day.
The online event was a huge success despite some technical glitches that we had to contend with. Unfortunately, because we are more used to working in and with communities of women, we are still trying to learn to properly use these online platforms. The DSWP planned on having around 200 community women including friends and allies in the women’s movement for the event. The target was surpassed as the event was attended by more than 500 women from Metro Manila, Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. This is a huge turnout especially since community women are not experts in using online technology.
In some places, the women came together in one venue to celebrate. It was like a real party! We could hear the laughter, jokes, and funny exchanges between DSWP members from across the country. It was like being physically with each other.
Personally, despite having worked with them through decades, it was the first time for me to sit down with some of our pioneers to talk about their personal journeys in the organization. It was one trip down memory lane! There was laughter and tears as we reminisced the years that have passed working on women’s and girls’ rights.
I spoke with Adoracion “Dory” Dela Peña of Bataan, Corazon “Cora” Dalumpines of Antique, Benedicta “Bennie” Angeles of Laguna, Neolenia “Neoly” Barbas of Caloocan City, Ligaya “Gaya” Beso of Negros Occidental, Emily Callo of Camarines Sur, Laura “Lalyn” Nuñez of Quezon, and Wilhelmina “Willie” Catane of Bukidnon. I also spoke with two former youth leaders, Cathy Gayo, and Rhoda Avila who eventually spent years working at the national office.
I now pay tribute to these ten remarkable women.
Let us begin with Ka Dory who hails from Mariveles, Bataan. In 1989, Dory was an ambulant vendor at the Mariveles Public Market and one of the many being prohibited by the Market Master from selling in the market. The women vendors were unorganized and they were bound to lose their livelihood source if they would be unable to ply their goods.
Dory recalled getting in touch with DSWP for help. I advised them to request for a dialogue with the market officials so they could be heard. I attended the dialogue where Dory recalled, “Nagalit ka pa nga kasi kung anu-ano ang sinasabi nila sa mga babae.” To cut the long story short, the women vendors won, they got organized and were affiliated with the DSWP. Dory went on to become an Area Coordinator and organized other women’s groups not just in Mariveles but in other parts of Bataan.
She was a mainstay in virtually all educational and training activities of the organization and travelled in many places of the country because of activities. Dory was also part of the DSWP delegation who went on a study tour to India where they witnessed successful projects of community women. Eventually, because of all the training she went through, she became a Barangay Councilor in her community.
In our conversation, Dory, now past 70 years old said, “I started in the market of Mariveles and I did not expect that I’d be able to do many things and travel to many places, even outside of the country. After all, I am not even a high school graduate. I owe everything to DSWP. Now that I am old, we have a new leader but I still help. DSWP should go on to help and develop more women like me.” Dory’s story proves that ordinary women when given opportunities can do more and advance in life.
Benny Angeles is a farmer from Nagcarlan, Laguna. Her organization received their affiliation papers with the DSWP in 1994 but their involvement with the organization goes back years earlier. Benny, until now, remains active in all activities at the national and local levels.
Through the years, she has developed into an effective leader who helped organize other groups in the province and implement projects with and for them. She said, “The livelihood projects that were granted by the DSWP in the early 2000s remain to be the women’s sources of income. Without these, surely the women’s lives would be more difficult.”
Because of her leadership roles, Benny was included in the delegation of 11 DSWP leaders who went on a study tour in Denmark in 1996. She considers this as her most memorable experience saying, “In Denmark, we saw how strong the women were. They were even able to have a huge and beautiful building for their offices. We also met Filipino women workers. They were negotiating for better employment terms, and they were successful. I thought, pwede pala yun. If they could do it, maybe we can, too.” After the trip, their mayor talked with her, something that would not have happened if not for DSWP’s recognition of her work. She said that this trip inspired her to even work harder with and for the women.
The struggle for the passage of the reproductive health bill, and now, the implementation is also unforgettable for Benny. “Marami po akong nakaaway dahil sa RH bill. Kahit ngayon, bakit daw ba ako nakikialam sa implementasyon? Hindi kasi nila alam na dinanas ko rin ang hirap bago maging batas iyan.”
One thing that Benny is proud of is the fact that she has been asked to run as councilor in her town. She lost but only by about 200 votes. She said, “Proud ako kasi libo-libo din ang bumoto sa akin at wala naman akong pera.” She added, “I am able to do these things because of DSWP. My development is because of the training I have received. I am an ordinary woman from the rural area but DSWP trained me to be a leader.”
To be continued next week.
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