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Malayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan

A Woman’s Story: How the Revolution Set Her Free

in Mainstream
by Vida Gracias

She froze. She felt numbed all over her body. That’s how Selya instantly reacted when she learned that her daughter, Mina, had been killed. It was in the late nineties.

Kubkob,” Selya was told about the incident that cost her daughter’s life.  But those who brought the sad news to her, Mina’s friends, tried to assuage her shock by telling her Mina was unarmed, that she was not a member of the New People’s Army (NPA). She was just with a group on an “exposure-integration” stint among the masses in that hinterland area when the incident happened, they said.

But why were guns trained on Mina and her companions, then fired—leaving some of them dead and others wounded? How many bullets shatter Mina’s face? Selya’s heart ached to its pith as she asked:  “Ano’ng nangyari sa anak ko? (What happened to my kid?)”  Mina was just 22, beautiful, a student leader, and a damn good writer.

A mother lost her daughter

Selya never really had a direct hand in Mina’s upbringing, as the latter grew up away from her maternal watch. Of her four children, Mina was the eldest. Though her husband came from a middle-class family he was not a good provider. The couple had to grapple with financial difficulties such that they could not afford to give their children proper education. Mina’s aunt came to the rescue; she took her under her care and sent her to school.

The pain in Selya’s heart persisted.  She wanted to know fully what happened to her daughter, and why?

She remembered getting a call from Mina telling her, “Magpu-fulltime na ako” (I am going fulltime!)” What was that about? Selya didn’t even understand what “fulltime” meant. Later she learned that Mina was being restricted by her in-laws, slapped a few times, and placed under “house arrest.” But Mina persisted in what she had committed to pursue, and found a way to leave the house. Mina said she was going on a one-week case study of Dolefil Philippines, a pineapple plantation, in South Cotabato.

The last time Selya saw Mina was when she came for a short visit, slept in their house, and bonded with her siblings. Selya noticed that Mina had lost weight and had insect bites on her skin. Her stories hinted of her carrying five kilos of rice on her back and learning how to fire a gun. “Nagduda na ako (I became suspicious),” Selya quipped.

Selya went along with Mina’s friends to identify her body at a funeral parlor. “Sa paa pa lang alam ko na (Merely by seeing her feet, I knew it’s her),” said the mother who didn’t need to see the whole body to claim it’s her daughter’s.

Then one by one, people started coming to the wake, sometimes in groups aboard jeeps or trucks. They all came to honor her daughter. Priests, nuns, students, farmers, workers, people from all walks of life. Night after night they shared snippets of stories about Mina. And they were always singing of struggles and of hope. It was through their narratives that Selya came to know more about her daughter’s activities, her aspirations, and her deep commitment to serve the people.

It no longer mattered to her that Mina was being tagged as a member of the NPA.

Political awakening

Years later it was Selya herself who was holding a gun. This mother in her fifties took the road that less mothers would have traveled, not just for her daughter’s memorial but for all that she had stood for.

Selya felt her bond with Mina becoming closer in her death than in her life.  Her love and respect for Mina grew by leaps and bounds.  Along with these came Selya’s political awakening.

For five years she fought for justice; she went trooping with other mothers and relatives of human rights violations victims to government agencies, demanding state accountability. The defendants in the case of her daughter’s killing were able to post bail on charges for multiple murders—and later were acquitted.  She went to almost every rally, every fact-finding mission, and every forum to speak about her daughter’s case and those of other victims of human rights violations.

Selya also learned about a lot of things. Having come from humble beginnings, she knew first-hand what poverty was like. But she came to know that poverty was not a matter of fate but a consequence of social and economic inequality, oppression and exploitation by the few ruling classes over the majority over whom they rule. Participating in discussions and forums gave her the knowledge about the class nature of Philippine society. She was convinced about the need for a national democratic revolution to bring about fundamental changes that her daughter Mina and countless others selflessly fought for.

Revolutionary education struck deep. Unknown to many, Selya was a battered housewife. For years she was abused by her husband in more ways than one. She accepted her fate in quiet perseverance. After all she was a devout Christian who as a wife had been made to understand that she must submit to her husband’s authority.

As her political consciousness grew deeper and broader, she gradually developed her resolve to break free. Finally, one day she said enough was enough and separated from her husband.


It was an act of liberation that her remaining children, in their late teens and early twenties, understood and approved of.  But they cried when she told them she was leaving for Mindanao to spend six months in the guerrilla zone. Perhaps they cried even more when she did not return and decided to go “fulltime.” On the seventh month of her stint at the guerrilla zone she officially joined the New People’s Army.

Tama siya. Walang mali sa ginawa niya (She was correct. There was nothing wrong with what she had done),” Selya declared about Mina. Her own experience in the countryside made her fully understand the choice that Mina had made before her. She put to rest all her questions about Mina’s choices that led to her martyrdom at such a young age.

Meanwhile, Selya became an inspiration to her younger comrades. She did not ask for any special treatment, although she was in her fifties. She would do her tasks just like the rest, carrying her own load in long treks and participating in military trainings.

Trusting in her maturity, she was asked to take charge of the NPA prisoners of war (POWs) while in protective custody of her unit, specially a town mayor who was awaiting trial before a people’s court. She would see to the POW’s daily medical check-up and engage him in discussions about the NDF’s 12-point program. Later, after the mayor admitted his sins and asked for forgiveness, he was set free and became an ally of the movement.

Pag ando’n ka, wala ka nang hahanapin pa (Once you are there, there’s nothing more you would wish for)” was how Selya defined her life in the countryside under the governance of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). For sure there are material comforts not available in the guerrilla zones; there are ever-lurking threats of military attacks, but it is here in the ranks of the revolution where ordinary folks become whole and enjoy their newfound freedoms.

And so it is with Selya. With eyes sparkling, she speaks of having found a new love in her life with a comrade in arms. And her children respect her right to such new love. “Pinalaya ko na ang aking sarili (I have liberated myself),” declared Selya. And her comrades are only too happy to see her smiling so sweetly.

Pola: A Woman Toiler Turned Warrior

in Mainstream
(Adapted from “Manggagawa, Mandirigma” by Ka Lina published in Ulos 2016)
by Pat Gambao

With the persistent pursuit for gender equality, women have transcended the patriarchal norm that a woman’s place is in the sanctity of home. With the advance of capitalism, women have entered new arena where their capability, vitality and intellect are recognized or rather harnessed. Yet as women toilers in factories and business establishments, they continue to experience the same degree, if not greater, of discrimination and exploitation.

Initiation to the world of the working class

Raised in a poor family who eked out a living from peddling food stuff for snacks in their barrio, Pola managed to finish high school but failed to pursue her dream of a college degree. Instead, she enrolled in a two-year course in a vocational school through the government’s “study-now-pay-later program”. In that so-called dual training, their only claim to being a student was the ID issued to them. They didn’t have a permanent classroom to pursue formal studies. Perhaps there really was no need as all they were taught to familiarize with different materials-wires, connectors and how to tape them together to assemble the harness of a vehicle. All they were taught were companies’ business concerns. In a semi-feudal society that served as mere supplier of semi-finished products to transnational corporations, perhaps those were all they need to know.

After three months, Pola and her classmates were sent to a factory for on-the-job training as part of the course. They were supposed to be student trainees yet they were made to work like regular workers as relievers or substitutes to absentees. They received P240 per day’s work, part of which went to payment of their tuition fees. The remaining one and a half years of the course were spent in the factory with such meager pay and without any benefit, not even the mandatory social security for workers.

Despite the rigor of the job, Pola worked hard, patiently waiting for the training to end in the hope that she would be taken in as apprentice. She got the job, true, but it did not take long before she was laid off.

Travails of a woman toiler

Thus began Pola’s rollercoaster journey into the world of commodity labor, exacerbated by the onslaught of imperialism’s neoliberal globalization as it dashed fumbling for a panacea to its crisis. The woman’s values of good-naturedness, patience and subservience inculcated by a feudal class society were fully taken advantage of.

Pola later applied as a saleslady in a well-known mall in their province. But she resigned after a month. She could not stand the difficult working condition and the ridiculous and repressive policy of the establishment. For a measly wage, she had to remain standing the whole day to reach her quota for the brand of dress apparels she was selling. There was a time when she was reprimanded for bringing her handkerchief inside the store without first registering it. Personal belongings had to be registered before bringing them in lest you would be accused of stealing.

From the job in the mall, Pola worked in an electronics company where she assembled “male” and “female” terminals used in television sets. But after more or less four months, her contract ended. This was the endo (end of contract) they call in the labor lingo.

Pola ended up in a food factory, where she was hired through an agency. With a spoon, she raced after the cups of noodles to determine if the noodles and condiments were of the right quantity or if needed to be reduced, add on, or changed. Also, if the machine that put on the cup lids was out of order, she had to do it manually. They worked by shifts in the factory. There were three shifts in all. But if a worker for the next shift was absent, she was obliged to take over and work up to 16 hours. Then again, it was endo after five months.

Pola also tried working as caddie in a golf course. She was an umbrella girl who trod on the heels of the golfer to shed him from the sunlight. But unable to stand the harassment from her bosses, she left the job after two months.

Through an employment agency in Makati, Pola was back as a factory worker. This time it was in a company manufacturing plastic lids for bottles of lotions, medicines, etc. Initially, her job was trimming the extra plastic around the lids to even them out; later, she was transferred to the packaging section. Sometimes, she relieved the operator of the machine that molds the lids.

As trimmer her quota was 6,000 plastic lids a day. Due to the thinness of the lids and the absence of a protective devise, her fingers often got wounded. As instant remedy, she would put on some adhesive tapes. But in the long run, her fingers have become numbed that she would not mind at all anymore. If she had not reached her quota, she was obliged to go on “overtime-thank you”, meaning overtime without pay. Again, after five months, endo. But she could continue working there as an “extra”- doing the same work, but with lower pay and without a contract.

Since life is difficult for Pola, any job is a welcomed treat just to earn a living.

The dawning of revolutionary consciousness

One day, coming home from an arduous day’s work in the factory, Pola met some students who stayed in their community. She was invited to sit-in to their discussions on the Philippine society and revolution. That awakened her to the stark realities-the immense oppression and exploitation of workers like her, as well as of peasants, professionals, youth, women and other sectors in society. She learned that their affliction was not destined. It was designed-a sinister scheme of the ruling class to hold on to power and wealth. But the greatest lesson she learned from their discussions was the solution to the people’s problems.

Pola could not contain her rage, as well as anxiety, with that realization. All along she had been entertaining the thought of leaving her job in the factory which did nothing but extract the workers life blood and sinew to accumulate huge profits for the capitalists. After thinking it over for days, weeks, and on to several months, Pola finally decided to work full time in the movement. This was the most decisive action she took in her whole life. She has the chance now to look at life from a different perspective and open up to new opportunities, best opportunities.

Sometimes, she reminisced about her past life in the factory, in the mall, in the golf course and how she spent it in vain. She could do nothing about it now but it would serve as a potent inspiration for her to get involved and take action to change this oppressive, unjust structure.

Smashing the chains

After more than a year of working in an urban center, Pola is now Ka Lina, a red warrior of the New People’s Army. She no longer held spoons, wires, connectors, dresses, umbrellas or plastic lids. She now carries an armalite. The broad countryside is her school and each day they delve into the strategies of the people’s war that will topple the semi-colonial, semi-feudal structures that oppress the people.

She is optimistic about the future, not only hers and her family’s, but also of the coming generations. Although she may not live to see victory, she is confident that time will come when the wealth that the people produce will serve not only a few but all. She vows to commit everything about her for the revolution, which will liberate the people from the fetters of exploitation and oppression.###

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