Philippines human rights crusader in Seattle for a series of talks on International Human Rights Day

Seattle-based community group Philippine-U.S. Solidarity Organization (PUSO) commemorated International Human Rights Day by hosting renown Filipina activist Marie Hilao-Enriquez. 

Seattle-based community group Philippine-U.S. Solidarity Organization (PUSO) commemorated International Human Rights Day by hosting renown Filipina activist Marie Hilao-Enriquez. 

Marie Hilao-Enriquez is the chair of Philippine human rights organization Karapatan: Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights. Karapatan documents cases of human rights violations perpetrated by the state and assists the victims and their relatives in seeking justice. Her 45-minute presentation was a summary of Karapatan’s documented human rights violations for 2011. This year was particularly significant, as it was the first full year for newly elected Philippine President  Benigno “Nonoy” Aquino III. While many in the Philippines and in the international community have lauded the president’s actions against government corruption, Marie Hilao-Enriquez tells a different story, that of continuing human rights violations and ongoing forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

According to Marie’s presentation, the Aquino presidency has not necessarily improved the human rights situation in the Philippines.  For instance, Karapatan has recorded 64 victims of extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings under the Aquino administration from July 1, 2010 to October 31, 2011 (16 months). In addition, the Philippine military has evacuated more than 3,800 peasants by force, often in areas where villagers are organizing to resist large mining companies from taking over their ancestral lands.  “Despite the change in presidents, the same unjust systems responsible for the human rights violations in the Philippines remains intact” said Michael Viola, one of the event organizers. “It was important to hear the stories of activists struggling for justice on behalf of the 99% in the Philippines, causing me to reflect on the connections here in the U.S.”

For International Human Rights Day, Marie Hilao-Enriquez presented twice in Seattle, with a Friday event at the University of Washington and a talk at the Filipino Community Center in South Seattle.  The speaking events raised close to $1,000 for Karapatan and were sponsored by a number of local organizations, including Japanese American progressive organization Tadaima, radical Korean American group Sahngnoksoo, Amnesty International Puget Sound and the Filipino American activist network BAYAN-Seattle.  Attendees filled both rooms to capacity, as Marie shared the many stories of murdered and disappeared community workers and organizers. One of the attendees Nicole Ramirez was angered by the many stories of murdered peasant organizers and tortured detainees. Despite this, she was proud of the turnout. "It was beautiful to see our communities come together for this weekend’s events. The support of so many Asian and Pacific Islander grassroots organizations, students and professors from the University of Washington shows our community’s efforts to seek social and economic justice not only in the U.S. but internationally as well."

A contingent of activists from the Occupy Seattle People-of-Color Caucus was also on-hand at the South Seattle event to spread the word about the Monday action to shut down all the ports on the West Coast. Marie described to them the violent dispersal of the Occupy Mendiola encampment near the Philippine president’s residence. She also drew connections between the growing movement in the U.S. and the long-running BAYAN movement for true peace and freedom in the Philippines.

Marie Hilao-Enriquez was a student activist in the 1970s, during the dictatorship of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. When he declared martial law, military police forces began cracking down on organizing activities. Marie was arrested during a raid, but was able to escape her captors. Unfortunately, her sister Liliosa was also arrested and died of the brutal torture inflicted by her captors. These events galvanized Marie’s resolve to work for the poor and oppressed of the Philippines and led her to become the chair of Karapatan: Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights.###