Defend Filipino women, defund NTF-ELCAC

Nov. 04, 2020

As a final step towards fascism, the Implementing Rules and Regulation of the Anti-Terror Law has been released in October. Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade, Jr. was quick to red-tag celebrities, duly-elected officers, and critics of the administration.

Also in October, or Indigenous Peoples’ Month, the government arrested Beatrice “Betty” Belen, 2018 Bayani ng Kalikasan awardee and staunch defender of ancestral lands. Since 2012, she has been opposing the Chevron Geothermal Project in Kalinga. Betty of Western Uma, Lubuagan, Kalinga, is also a community health worker who advocates for an improved health system in the countryside.

The Regional Trial Court Branch 54 in Bacolod City could not have chosen a better time – October, Peasant Month – to issue a warrant of arrest against 56 farmers who are members of Paghiliusa sang Agricultural Workers kag Small Fishermen nga may Inisyatiba sa Barangay San Juan (PAWIS). The arrest is seen by PAWIS as a way to intimidate the farmers and agricultural workers and prevent them from fighting for land distribution and genuine agrarian reform.

In October, we also witnessed the inhumane treatment of youth leader Reina Mae “Ina” Nasino. Ina was initially granted a three-day furlough to attend the wake of her three-month-old daughter, who had died of pneumonia while her mother languished in jail on false charges. But authorities of the Manila City Jail Female Dormitory were able to trim the furlough down to six hours. No less than 40 soldiers were sent to guard a grieving mother.

The moment when Ina is asked by the media to express her anger and disappointment is symbolic: uniformed armed men gather around the 23-year-old mother in an attempt to block her from speaking. Ina tries her best to respond, clad in personal protective equipment with her arms cuffed. The commanding officer turns his two-way radio on whenever Ina opens her mouth. “Isigaw mo na lang, Ina,” her lawyers prompt. Ina tries to talk about injustice as the soldiers press against her. As a last resort, they attempt to take her away. Her sleep-deprived lawyers insist that Ina could not be taken away without a court order. They have to raise their voices and use their bodies to shield Ina.

This is how the regime is treating us now. They are depriving us of our rights and are using their power to do what they want, in blatant disregard of the law. Ina’s lawyers from Karapatan prove that we can resist, that we can defend our rights, yet we have to be as strong as Ina.

The police declined to remove Ina’s handcuffs during daughter’s burial and highjacked the car that held Baby River so that the mourners and family members could not hold a procession. Today, the women’s dormitory of Manila City Jail is preventing Ina’s mother and relatives from visiting her. They refuse to accept food, letters of support, or flowers for Ina. They continue to violate her rights after depriving her daughter of a proper burial and amidst her postpartum depression.

Unlike Ina, I was not illegally incarcerated when I was pregnant. I was surrounded by my loved ones during my delivery and recovery. Still, I experienced severe postpartum depression. As a woman and mother, I can only imagine Ina’s condition.

Manila City Jail officers have blood in their hands. By not providing Ina access to regular checkups during her pregnancy and to lactation facilities and equipment after giving birth, they have robbed Baby River of her life. Of course, had the government not arrested Ina, an activist exercising her rights, on baseless charges, Baby River could still be alive today.

Both Ina and Auntie Betty were charged with illegal possession of explosives and firearms, a non-bailable case. “If the state considers activists as its enemy, logically, its objective is to put them behind bars over charges that are non-bailable. To justify the government’s stance that activists are terrorists, the planting of firearms and explosive is the best way to do it,” writes Taule.

With the implementation of the Anti-Terror Law, even this opinion piece could be interpreted as an act of terrorism. An emblem, an online post, a public statement could be considered a serious threat. Anyone and everyone could be called a terrorist.

This is why organizations like the Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women are calling to defund the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) which has been designated a Php 19 billion fund for 2021. “The NTF-ELCAC is a waste of hard-earned taxpayers’ money, and a machinery undermining the constitution, the rights to freedom of expression, speech, peaceful assembly, and association,” says Zenaida Soriano, National Chairperson of Amihan. The group demands to defund NTF-ELCAC and repeal the “terror law,” both policies of the Duterte regime to intensify its fascist attack against critics including peasant and indigenous women.

That Php 19 billion could feed generations to come. Is it not logical to invest that money on agriculture and the protection of ancestral lands to provide sustainable lives to our people and our children? The pandemic has left the entire nation hungry, jobless, and at high risk of infection. Why, with the rising number of COVID-19 cases and unemployment, the collapsing distance learning scheme, the crises in agriculture and the environment — does the regime think that boosting the budget to combat “communist” rebels will solve all these problems? (

Rae Rival writes and does volunteer work for Gantala Press and Rural Women Advocates. She is a teacher and a mother. Her stories, poems, and essays have appeared in CNN Philippines, Rappler, Voice and Verse Poetry Magazine (Hong Kong), Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, university presses, and do-it-yourself zines.

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