September 21st marks the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law by former President of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos. Under the Marcos dictatorship of the 1970s and 80s, the Filipino people were subjected to massive theft of land and state resources, attacks on civil liberties, and brutal human rights violations. These conditions prompted the masses to take action, eventually leading to a mass uprising that would result in the ousting of Marcos and a tremendous victory for the people. 

Earlier this year through a fraudulent election, Marcos Jr. became the new president of the Philippines, signaling the restoration of his father’s legacy of political repression. Part of Marcos’ strategy to win the election involved historical revisionist tactics and propaganda which painted the thirty year period of Marcos’ dictatorship as a “golden era” of Philippine prosperity. 

In order to combat the false narratives advanced by the Marcos restoration forces and connect past and present struggles for national liberation, the Freedom Archives held a workshop with members of GABRIELA Oakland to learn more about the people’s history of organizing against martial law. GABRIELA Oakland is part of a global alliance of over 200 Filipino women’s organizations committed to waging a struggle for national liberation and democracy in the Philippines.

We listened to a recorded interview from 1987 with Nelia Sancho, one of the co-founders of GABRIELA Philippines, who discussed the ongoing need for genuine sovereignty from the U.S. and emphasized landlessness as a primary problem in the struggle. From the tape, members found it encouraging that the language and analysis of the movement has stayed consistent over the years.

Excerpt on landlessness from Judy Gerber’s interview with Nelia Sancho of GABRIELA Philippines (1987)

We also had a special opportunity to hear from former KDP (Katiupunan ng mga Demokratikong Pilipino) member Estella Habal, who shared stories and perspectives from her lived experience as Filipino anti-martial law organizer in the Bay Area during the Marcos era. The KDP was an organization that emerged from efforts among the Filipino American community to form a nationwide anti-imperialist network, a task that was viewed with growing urgency after Marcos declared martial law. The organization worked to support national democracy in the Philippines and promote socialism in the US.

Estella discussed the situation of Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes, who were union organizers, Alaska fish cannery workers, and members of KDP in Seattle. After speaking out against the Marcos dictatorship and passing a resolution through ILWU that would investigate the conditions of Filipino workers, the Marcos regime carried out a coordinated assassination, killing both Silme and Gene while they were attending a meeting at their union hall. KDP responded to the escalation by exposing the relationship between the shooters and the Marcos regime and filing a criminal and civil lawsuit against the Marcos dictatorship which ultimately resulted in an 11 million dollar settlement for the families of Silme and Gene.

Estella also discussed the anti-imperialist orientation of members prior to their forming the KDP, and spoke to the relationships that were established between anti-imperialist organizers based in the Philippines and in the US. A point that resonated with GABRIELA members, who recognized a similar approach in their own work, was KDP’s dual program of organizing for national liberation and democracy in the Philippines while simultaneously building and contributing to local campaigns in the US.

One member reflected on Estella’s point about the younger generation of Filipinos who didn’t live through the period of martial law and may not understand the real gravity of what was happening. Her comment touches on the frightening reality of what was largely considered a successful misinformation campaign. But it also speaks to the power of spaces like the Freedom Archives and other information institutions that are committed to stewarding people’s histories. In spaces like these, we can counter the false narratives advanced by people in power and empower ourselves with the truth of what really happened.

Marcos Jr. and Vice President Sarah Duterte are visiting the US this September. Marcos will be delivering a speech at the United Nations General Assembly on September 20th, which will already be the 50th anniversary of martial law in Philippine time. Join GABRIELA Oakland at the Philippine Consulate in San Francisco on 9/20 to protest Marcos’ visit. Learn from History, Fight for the Future! Reject the US-Marcos II Regime! 

Tuloy ang laban!