HONG KONG (SE): Women of The Philippines marched through the streets of Hong Kong on March 5 to put their mark on International Women’s Day (March 8) and add their voices to millions around the world in a call for recognition of the dignity of woman that began in the United States of America over a century ago.
Reflecting their lot as migrant domestic workers, they marched under the banner of working women to the theme of the song immortalised by the late Susan Magno-Fernandez, Babae Ka! (You are Woman).
Believed to be the last song that the inspiration of political prisoners during the dark years of martial law ever performed in public before succumbing to her struggle with cancer in 2009, Babae Ka! describes the lot of women as loved, but still servants; seeking peace, but abused and with debts to pay; and belittled in the eyes of society.
The rally picked up the call of Fernandez to stand at the point of departure, show off the value of woman and although the door to freedom may be closed on them, to unite and push it open wide.
In a statement, the organiser of the rally, Gabriela-Hong Kong, asked why half of the Filipinos working overseas are women from exploited backgrounds in the oppressed sectors of society—manual workers, peasants, lower level professionals, indigenous people and, why they are so often young.
“Babae Ka! is our affirmation of our involvement not only in the women’s movement, but with the people’s movement fighting for a society that is truly free, democratic, just and peaceful,” a spokesperson for Gabriela, Shiela Tebia, said.
The group is asking why the call of the working women of Hong Kong to governments continually falls on deaf ears and why their own voice as Filipino working women is ignored by their own government in Manila.
The statement says they have called for simplified documentary procedures, but have received only an equally tedious revamp.
They have called for decent job opportunities at home, but in asking for bread have been handed a stone by the administration of Rodrigo Duterte, who promised so much and has delivered so little.
They have asked for support, but are threatened with a 12 per cent value added tax on their remittances—an imposition on working people from which business and the elite are exempt.
The group called on Duterte to come good on his promise of peace in Mindanao, the instability of which is the sole reason many Filipinos have been driven from their homes to find work abroad.
They asked why the president who promised so much, but unlike his predecessor, Noynoy Aquino, who worked to affect a peace right up to the last day of his presidency, has given up in a huff at the first set back.
“We call for the Duterte government to seriously pursue the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of The Philippines that should now be talking about substantial issues of economic and social reforms.
“This includes a sovereign economy that promotes local decent jobs and reduces the vulnerability of Filipino women to forced migration,” the statement reads.
It also has condemnatory words for his much touted war on drugs, which is proving to be little more than a brazen attack on the poor of the land, while the protectors of the drug barons and corrupt forces of the police and military kill with impunity.
Gabriela adds that the insidious side of the war on drugs is that it is being used to camouflage the increasing rate of murder of social and human rights advocates, while leaving political prisoners languishing in jails for crimes they did not commit.
“President Duterte should put on a leash the warmongers and sabre rattlers in his government,” the group says.
There is no more powerful a patron for Working Women’s Day than Fernandez, who with nothing but her loving heart, warm smile and beloved guitar sang courage and determination into the lives of those in Hong Kong who, like herself were suffering from cancer, on her last trip away from home at the end of 2008.
As the infectious passion of the music in her soul found a home in hearts yearning for hope, the rally in the streets of Hong Kong sought inspiration from her melodic words to the women of the world who are still seen as weak beings and mere objects of desire and beauty.
“But without them, no functional society would exist,” Wilen Mina said in presenting A Voice of Hope in a Time of Darkness, a work on the life of Fernandez by Luchie Maranan, at the University of The Philippines Baguio Lobby in 2014.