Vernie Yocogan-Diano of CWEARC at ABT’s Founding Assembly

Magbunyi ang Kabataan Patungo sa Malayang Bukas! Assembly of Anakbayan Toronto (1 December 2012)

Kabataang lumalaban! Kabataang makabayan! Gawin nating makabuluhan ang slogans na ito sa paghimok at pagpapakilos ng kabataang Pilipino sa pamamagitan ng Anakbayan sa Toronto at Canada. Congratulations on your 1st Assembly as Anakbayan Toronto, the youth organization with acomprehensive mission of arousing, organizing and mobilizing the Filipino youth to advance the Filipino movement for national freedom and democracy. Mabuhay kayo.

Vernie Diano in ABT 1st GA

I am indeed honoured to be part of this historic event in the life and journey of Anakbayan Toronto.When I was informed about the assembly, what came across my mind is you probably have wanted tohold your assembly on Nov. 30 being the birthday of one of our heroes who led the revolution against Spanish colonization, Andres Bonifacio. Bonifacio’s birthday was also the date that Anakbayan was formed in 1998. You are also holding your assembly at a significant period when the women of the world are commemorating the 16-day campaign to end violence against women where we highlight the struggles of women in ending violence and discrimination particularly violence perpetrated by the stateand its institutions that make women as private property, commodities and elements of profit. In the Philippines, this is led by our national alliance of women, GABRIELA.

I convey my salute to you that as young as you are, you are already taking part in this less traveled path.The usual dream of any young person is to take the more traveled path of career development, climbing the social ladder and catching up with the fashion. As a young person then, I was not spared from that thinking. I come from a rural indigenous community where every youth’s dream was to be a “big somebody” in the future. Every youth dreamt of giving good life to her/his family. This is possible if you are able to study, finish a degree, have the connection with a politician or person in authority or have the capital to run a business. For one who grew in a rural village, these dreams are realized by leaving eventually your village. But I was also coming from a village that was involved in the armed revolution and that somehow changed the mindset and perspectives of young people. But I was not as bold as the others who saw that life was possible without leaving the village. I was an obedient child with the desire of finishing a degree, landing a good job and be a “somebody”.

When my parents sent me to study in the city of Baguio in the mid 80’s, I had no other goal but study and excel. I hear about actions in the streets and plazas but I kept myself away from these—not because I did not believe but it was because I wanted to fulfill a dream. I believed some were there not because they understood the cause but because they find it thrilling and different. I was not convinced with youth leaders who failed in their subjects or who even dropped and used their activism as a reason. My older brother happens to be one of those in the Progressive Igorots for Social Action (PIGSA). They hold long night sessions talking about perspectives,actions and self-criticism in our house. But he never invited me, nor his group to join them.Without them knowing, I listened to their discussions, read the materials they produce and actually used those materials in my arguments in school. I eavesdropped where the next action is. I realized I was open to their beliefs and movement as I found my way to their public forums and actions. Being an active member of the traditional youth organization of the Episcopal church, I was later invited to a youth camp that discussed social issues which were different from the usual discussions of the church youth. Marcos dictatorship was falling down and we were asked to reflect on the role of the youth in restoring democracy and struggling for justice. That changed a lot in my life. I had very good mentors who were priests and pastors, some of them unfortunately have left and became part of the oppressive system. One of those ministers remain to be as dedicated to the cause for social justice until now. He experienced repressive attacks including being arrested and detained. So when I graduated from college and became a registered Medical Technologist, I thought that the best way to be relevant was to do community work. The state of unemployment in the country especially for MT facilitated that decision. But overseas work was also very inviting at that time. I was first involved as a staff for a women’s NGO and then to another Cordillera NGO doing human rights work. My parents and circle of friends thought that I was missing an opportunity and not fulfilling my dream of being a “somebody”.

Fast forward to the mid-90s’, I thought of trying organizing in one province of the Cordillera to test ifI really like what I was doing. I only had the basic orientation for organizers. The next thing was I was asked to do youth organizing which I strongly resisted in the beginning. Being 26 then, I thought I was too old for that group. But then I was reminded of what Bishop Mercado of the United Methodist Church during the founding of the ecumenical youth organization of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines that “youth is not a matter of age, it is a state of the mind”. So I took the challenge—sino ang gagawa kung hindi tayo. It was a worthy experience. Not only that it gives a sense of being a youth but it was truly a learning and de-learning process. My mass work experience among the youth,indigenous peasants and the professional in Ifugao strongly influenced my perspective of being part of the indigenous peoples’ movement in the Cordillera, particularly the women’s movement. I got the greatest learning and inspiration from them. That gave me the meaning of Serve the People.

In my journey with the indigenous peoples’ movement and in the wider movement for national freedom, democracy and justice, I would like to share with you some reflections: 1) That youth is not only a phase in our life. It is a phase where we determine our relevance and use our energy in making another world. Thus it means concretizing and pursuing the cause of Anakbayan as the Philippine comprehensive youth organization for national democracy. Serve the people. 2) That the world is leading us to a mindset of “mine and mine alone”. The culture bred by neoliberal economics and politics or by imperialism entrenches individualism and for the good of the few eroding the culture of collectivism and communalism that was the way of life of the ancestors of Filipinos before Spanish colonization. It is a worldview of indigenous peoples and such values are lived by some indigenous peoples until this era of neoliberal globalization. These values are specially sustained among indigenous peoples who are pursuing self-determination aspirations in the context of their movements like the Cordillera Peoples Alliance and its allied members which includes indigenous youth and women. To be able to pursue Anakbayan’s mission is to give up a long list of our individual wishes like earning one degree after another while many of the Filipino youth and children in countryside and urban communities cannot even have the basic education.

The energy of the youth is truly needed as the communities in the Philippines are facing greater threats and attacks of death in their resistance against mining corporations, other development aggression, militarization and policies that rob and concentrate the national wealth for the ruling elite, corporations and their imperialist rulers. It is giving up your comfort zones to serve the people.3) As the wellspring of the movement, think about coming back home not only as a visiting force but spend a significant time in actively participating to make change happen. And you will not regret that you will change and remould as you take part in creating the relevant changes. Many of you maybe still tracing their Filipino roots but I do hope that you will find your identity politics with the national democratic movement. The young once are aging and young ones are needed to continue the unfinished work. 4) In any struggle and every way of the struggle, we encounter contradictions. Our struggle includes dealing with individual and organizational challenges and by having healthy discussions that we build on unities. Hold on to the hard-earned lessons, don’t archive these to do what you just wish to do, and enrich those lessons in your ardous and painstaking work of arousing, organizing and mobilizing the Filipino youth in Toronto and Canada. Don’t leave behind the Igorot youth who you might find difficult to deal with but I believe that unending conversations with them will draw them in. Let us work together to make the connections with our indigenous youth organization in the Cordillera through the Cordillera Peoples Alliance,pursue conversations with them as indigenous but also Filipino youth in Toronto and Canada. 5) Let the women shine as leaders and members in Anakbayan Toronto. Women hold half of the sky and women have proven their role in leadership and decision-making and this you must reflect in Anakbayan Toronto. With you, we will look forward to new leaders for Filipino mass organizations in Canada.

An enormous task is waiting for you. I will be coming twice a year until 2015 and I look forward to continue what we began in sharing the progress of our work and have the conversations necessary in advancing our work.

Fetad or betad is our word in the Cordillera in mobilizing entire communities in defence of our land,life and dignity. I do look forward that Anakbayan Toronto will live the same spirit of mobilizing Filipino youth including the Igorot youth in Toronto, build linkages with Canadian,First Nation or immigrant youth organizations in Toronto and Canada, as you spread the good work of Anakbayan Toronto as your contribution to the national democratic struggle in the Philippines. I share the words of Macliing Dulag,one of the Cordillera martyrs who led the resistance against the World Bank funded Chico dams in the 70s and was killed by a military officer, which I always to in my messages, “If we do not fight, we die anyway. If we fight, we die honourably. I exhort you all fight.”

Matago-tako kayo, agbiag, mabuhay, long live!

Vernie Yocogan-Diano
Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center (CWEARC)
cwearc09@gmail.com

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