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COSI: The Struggle for Philippine Democracy

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October is Filipino American History Month. This week’s COSI (Conversations on Social Issues) session sponsored by the Seattle Central College Library held at 12 p.m. on October 21 reminded me of the historical struggles to gain and maintain democracy in the Philippines.

I remember when my late great-grandmother would sit me down and tell stories of how scary life was during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Saying anything against the government could mean death, and that was the reality for most activists who stood up against the dictatorship.

And now, with Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. running for office in this upcoming election, Filipino democracy is being threatened once more. 

The elder Marcos, who served as 10th president of the Philippines, was notorious for placing the Philippines under a state of martial law in order to silence the media and have total control of the people.

For this month’s COSI event, three speakers were invited to speak, including one speaker from the Philippines. 

One speaker at the event, Rafaela “Paeng” David, has been the executive director of the Center for Youth Advocacy and Network since 2017. She is also the current president of AKBAYAN, a democratic socialist political party in the Philippines with youth-led initiatives

David discussed the influence of older generations on the current youth. She talked of the importance for youth to have connections with these people because they not only serve as mentors for them, but they also act as a constant reminder of what previous generations had to fight for, for the present generation to have the democracy they enjoy today.

Joining David was Cindy Domingo, a second-generation Filipino American who discovered the horrors of the 1970s Marcos dictatorship. She comes from a family of activists who were involved with the Alaskan Cannery Workers Union and Local 37

One of the most striking topics she talked about is how historically involved Filipinos were in the United States, citing the event of the Great Grape Strike and Boycott of the ‘60s which lasted for five years! Even here, Filipinos in Seattle were also part of the reason why the Chinatown-International District still exists to this day. (This is all new information for me!)  

The last speaker of the night, Edwin Batongbakal, became a student activist during the Marcos regime in the ‘70s. After immigrating to the U.S., Batongbakal joined the Union of Democratic Filipinos (KDP), a socialist revolutionary Filipino American group organized to fight for American social justice issues and against the dictatorship in the Philippines. 

Batongbakal highlighted the fact that the struggle for Filipino democracy is not exclusively intergenerational but also transnational, considering the large population of overseas Filipino workers (OFW’s). Both Batongbakal and Domingo stressed how this may be a problem in the upcoming election because of the mass of fake news OFW’s get because often, most of their news sources come from social media due to language barriers and maintaining connection with the Philippines. 

For example, in this recent statement from the Oxford Philippines Society where they have to release this information to the public since Marcos Jr., has falsified information about getting a degree from the university.  

Statement from the Oxford Philippines Society addressing the misinformation circling around former student Bong Bong Marcos
Oxford Philippines Society, Facebook Recent statement from the Oxford Philippines Society addressing the misinformation circling around former student Bong Bong Marcos

This and other forms of misinformation and disinformation allow the aspiring president to make his name more palpable to the masses. These claims are only a few of the falsehoods running around social media like Facebook and TikTok. This is very dangerous because Filipinos are known to be more addicted to their phones than many people in the world. 

But one quote from David inspired me to hold on to the day where things could be better: “Hope is persistent. Hope is inherited,” she said. This statement testifies that if the youth were one of the main keys to toppling the Marcos dictatorship, then the youth will be the same key that stops them from getting back in power.

With the Philippines having an election coming up next year, conversations like these are important so that the horrors of the past stay in the past. We cannot risk the democracy that the older generations fought for going to waste. 

For more information and updates on future COSI’s, visit the Seattle Central College Library website. Sessions are held most Thursdays via Zoom for free, with recordings and presenter slides available within a few days of each live event.

Or Juanita Banana as his friends call him, is a staff writer at the Seattle Collegian, where he focuses on writing about the experience of immigrant students at Seattle Central College. A documentarian, he hopes to create videos that will showcase the chaos and glory of humans.

As a Seattle local, he’s an aspiring granola boy, who enjoys rock climbing and jumping off cliffs. His recent documentary, Welcome to the Neighborhood, was an official selected entry for the 2021 SCOOP film fest.

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