I received a shocking news this morning. One of my college friend, Mira Gamba, has been picked up by military/police and has gone missing along with three other companions. They are all members of a women's organisation in the Philippines, Gabriela.
Being far away and practically a nobody, my mind rushed on who to contact and what to do in order to help in any way I can. Having been in situations like this during my UP days, I know that if nobody looks for you or asks about you, you are bound to end up raped, abused and worse - dead in an unmarked grave or floating in the Pasig river or burried under a pile of trash either in Smokey Moutain or Payatas.
It is a fact that these things continue to happen in my country. Many activits, politicians, non-government organisation staff, students, teachers who but said one word against a the current ruling elite at that time - can face the possibility of ending up a decaying, unrecognizable mass of flesh and bones.
Mira was a student activist as I was back in our University of the Philippines days. Many of my peers and closest friends were. There were only two choices, apathy or make a difference and care...whilst being in school. We chose to care. Mira chose to care.
In fact, she continues to care so much that she ended up not in the corporate world but in a non-profit women's organisation that aims to uphold women's human rights and give a better chance for women and children in an abusive (most times), patriarchal (since forever) society such as the Philippines.
Thank goodness for emails, online groups and discussion boards, the message about her disappearance spread and reached some of the right people who could make a difference. She and her 3 other companions have been found...and alive.
However, they face the problem of being charged - of possessing firearms and being members of the Communist Party. These women do not carry firearms! Despite the dangerous jungle that is Manila, and their job of visiting families and communities in the remotest and dangerous of places - these women never carry a gun much less a pen knife! It is an obvious plant and the one charge that is by Philippine law, un-bailable.
The problem with our political system is that, anyone who tries to even show that they care for the masses and not themselves and not work towards personal gain but for the benefit of a community, is immediately labelled a communist. Anyone who takes up the issues of the people, raising their level of awareness so that they become more judicious with their choices, is already a rebel and against the government.
Why are we doing this to our own? These women give their time and energy to do good and in the end, they are put in prison and called 'disturbers of the peace'. What peace will we have and our children will have if we do this to the very people who work to achieve it?
I am dumbfounded. I am angry and frustrated. I am in shock. What if that had been me? What if, instead of applying for a job abroad, I had opted for a life of service to my kababayans (countrymen) and worked for an organisation like Gabriela? For indeed I had worked for them during my college days, helped them write up articles and did some research work...so what if I had decided to do what Mira had done? I'd end up behind bars?!?! This is insane! This is ridiculously comedic - it brings tears to my eyes.
Note that the ladies who continue to be in prison and who are wrongfully accused/charged are:
1. Miralyn Gamba, 34 years old of Brgy. Tanauan, Real, Quezon. She is a provincial coordinator of Gabriela
2. Nancy Ella, 33 years old of Brgy. Tanauan, Real, Quezon. She is the First district coordinator of Gabriela
3. Leonila Manalo, 32 years old, municipal coordinator of Real, Quezon.
4. Ailyn Ramos, 23 years old of Tayabas, Quezon, municipal Coordinator of Tayabas, Quezon.
None of these women are communists. None of them have ever carried a gun or used a gun, even if her life depended on it. These are normal, hard working Filipinas whose only dream is to make women's conditions in the Philippines a little bit better than what it currently is.