BOOK REVIEW: WOMEN AGAINST MARCOS – Stories of Filipino and Filipino American Women Who Fought a Dictator

by Rose Churma

It would be 50 years ago this month of September when then President Ferdinand Marcos would declare Martial Law in the Philippines.

For most of us who came of age in the early 70s, September 21, 1972 would evoke memories, most of which we would rather forget.

In the prologue, the author quotes Spanish philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Perhaps the same is true for those who choose to forget the past, or whose version of the past is distorted due to the prevalence of disinformation on social media – the medium of choice for most young people now.

The author notes that it became her impetus to write this book as a reminder of the brutal repression under the Marcos dictatorship and the role of Filipinas and Filipino-American women in the struggle to restore democracy in the Philippines.

At the time this book was being prepped for publication in 2016, the dictator’s son was running for the vice presidency. He lost that election, but he won the presidency in 2022, and there is that unspoken fear that those years of brutality and repression may repeat itself.

Thus, it is important to bring to light, works like this where women who were part of that struggle are given space to tell their stories.

This was done using face-to-face interviews over the course of several years. The women were also actively involved in editing the drafts of their narratives, and some wrote parts of their stories.

Aurora Javate De Dios organized demonstrations and worked in the underground for three years but was arrested and became a political prisoner in 1976.

Aida Santos and her husband worked in the underground movement but were eventually imprisoned and survived torture and sexual abuse while detained.

Mila Aguilar, a journalist, became one of a few women who advocated for equality in the movement and was released from detention soon after the People Power revolution in 1986 which ended the dictatorship.

The only religious in the group is Sister Mary John Mananzan, a tireless advocate for political prisoners, informal settlers and migrant workers, particularly women.

The two Filipino-American women included are Geline Avila, who became a leader in the anti-dictatorship movement in the US. The other is Cindy Domingo of Seattle who led the effort to achieve justice for the murders of her brother, Silme Domingo and friend, Gene Viernes who were killed by Marcos’ hired goons in 1981.

The book’s editor, Mila De Guzman and her sister Viol De Guzman also shared their stories.

Viol De Guzman was living in New York City when Martial Law was declared. She went back home soon after, and for 20 years, from 1972 to 1992 became a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Mila De Guzman, who conceptualized this book, is a freelance writer who has organized movements around issues concerning Filipino immigrants, the LGBT community, and women in the US. She received her degree in writing from the University of San Francisco and has been awarded various writing residencies.

In the last segment titled “Epilogue” Sister Mary John Mananzan, who used to be the president of Saint Scholastica’s College in Manila writes:

“Activism has deepened my religious beliefs and made me a better Christian… that social transformation is more rewarding because we are able to make a difference in people’s lives instead of simply aiming to save their souls so they can go to heaven… that everyone should respond to social issues and sacrifice present conveniences for the future good of everyone.”

The narratives of these women are inspiring. They had fought to improve the quality of life for the Filipino people, wherever they may be, and the empowerment of women – and will do so again, should it become necessary.

 established a career in architecture 40 years ago, specializing in judicial facilities planning. As a retired architect, she now has the time to do the things she always wanted to do: read books and write about them, as well as encourage others to write.

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