by Romeo Hebron
Ever since joining Anakbayan LA (AB-LA) in December 2010, I’ve developed a better understanding of the National Democratic (ND) movement in the Philippines. By attending meetings, events, and participating in various educational discussions with the rest of the collective, I not only learned about Philippine society, both past and present, but also the root causes of these conditions. However, while learning about these issues is a necessary foundation to have, it has to go beyond just knowing. All the knowledge in the world won’t do any good unless it’s put into action and applied on a daily basis to truly Serve the People.
Even though we live in the United States, I knew that we’re recognized as being part of the ND movement in the Philippines, but there has always been a part of me that couldn’t quite feel it completely. No matter how much material I studied or how many discussions I had with kasamas, it was as if my level of understanding hit a plateau. I don’t know how it is for others (regardless if they’re organizers), but growing up as a Fil-Am and having never been to the Philippines, I felt somewhat disconnected from everything I learned in the last year or so because it was all just a concept to me – the Philippines that I knew was only from the pictures I saw or the stories I heard, but hadn’t experienced myself.
All of that changed when I went to the Philippines for the first time this past December. I know quite a few people who’ve participated in exposure programs throughout the years, but theirs lasted for weeks at a time. My whole trip to the Philippines was only for three weeks and most of it was spent visiting family throughout different provinces in Luzon, but after seeing the impact that going on expo had on kasamas, I knew I had to experience it for myself so I could be better equipped as an organizer upon my own return to the belly of the beast.
A couple of days after Christmas, I embarked on a life changing, four-day exposure trip in the province of Laguna, accompanied by my guide, a full time organizer with Gabriela Southern Tagalog. I’ll continue to share my experiences with others for a long time to come, but one of the things that resonates with me now that I’m back in the States is that I have no doubt in my mind that I’m a part of the movement. It’s no longer just a concept to me.
When we talk about the farmers who get exploited by big landlords, I can look back on the time that I spent in the rice/palay fields, walking barefoot in the thick mud and pulling out every tiny weed by hand. I think of the hot sun beating down on me, the sweat dripping from my forehead and into my eyes and the sharp back pains from bending over for so long. More importantly, I think of the old women working right beside me who do this from 6:30am – 4:00pm every day but only get paid 170 pesos (roughly $4 US) for their backbreaking work.
When we talk about the lack of work opportunities and the hunger that results from it, I think about the husband and wife who opened up their home to us and shared what little food they had. I can still see their smiling faces in the flickering candlelight as they watched over their guests and made sure we were fed before they themselves ate. I didn’t find out until after the fact, but they fed us literally all the food they had in their home. Due to a combination of heavy rains and an overflowing dam, the land that they relied on for their livelihood was completely immersed in water and left them with no way to make money, which in turn meant no food.
When we talk about the resilient spirit of our people and the strength of the ND movement, I think about the union organizer who was hasn’t seen his wife and their 13 year-old son since he was forced to flee over six months ago due to constant police and military harassment. As he told me his story, the tears that began to form in his eyes made it clear just how much he missed his family, but he said that he has to continue organizing because his wife is one of the millions of workers across the country who are fighting for basic rights like livable wages, safe working conditions, and gainful (not contractual) employment.
Despite the struggle and the hardship that our people have to face, I also think of how they can still find a reason to smile because they’re rich in community and companionship. Specifically, I think about the (belated) Christmas celebration that the Gabriela ST organizers had in a public courtyard for roughly 150 residents. For me, it was a perfect way to spend my last night on expo and see all those happy faces as they ate, played games, participated in a gift exchange, and also received free small bags of rice to take home. Out of that whole event though, my favorite part was walking around with my camera and being the unofficial photographer for the day. I still can’t help but smile when I think of all the kids who kept wanting their picture taken, “Kuya Romeo! Kuya Romeoooo!!! Can you please take my picture?!” Immediately after they heard the camera click, they would run up to check the LCD screen, laugh out loud after seeing themselves, then run off into the distance to recruit other friends to take pictures. My whole trip to the Philippines, but this night especially, served as a reminder of why genuine liberation and national democracy are a fight worth fighting for.
Like I mentioned before, I don’t know if other Fil-Am organizers have had similar feelings, but deep in my heart I know now that we are a part of this. Those feelings of disconnect are long gone and have been replaced by an increased dedication to the National Democratic movement in the Philippines. Struggle, Liberation, and Revolution can’t be viewed as simple buzz words thrown around by activists and organizers, there’s a much deeper meaning and a face to go along with it now. We just need to look in the mirror and see for ourselves.