Iron-Willed ‘Political Butterflies’ Still Flutter

Mar. 28, 2006

By Bejay C. Absin

DAVAO CITY The gathering gave a whole new meaning to the phrase political butterfly.

Because they were all there women political luminaries, some of whom hadnt met in a long while, many of them still possessed by the fire of political dissent and because butterflies were everywhere: on their nametags, lapels, chests, arms, wrists, even fingers.

The forum, at the Ateneo de Davao University, was called Free Our Sisters! Free Ourselves! and specifically targeted the political repression prevalent nowadays. It was organized by Gabriela Womens Party, Bathaluman Crisis Center and the Gabriela Network of Professionals. The host committee was led by Rosena Sanches and Bing Sobrevega-Chan, two of the cities most respected women professionals.

The participants were a merry mix of (political) colors, just like butterflies. Nelia Sancho, the former beauty queen turned hell-raiser, was present as the convenor of the Free Our Sisters, Free Ourselves campaign and at the same time as director for children’s concern of Gabriela Women’s Party.

Sancho said this campaign was first convened by Gabriela during the Aquino administration. The revival, she said, is a means to counter the curtailment of civil liberties.

“We were all bothered by PP1017,” said Lyda Canson of the Bathaluman Crisis Center, referring to the presidential proclamation by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo that justified the crackdown on the progressive sector. Canson poked fun at the affidavit of the police operatives who implicated her friend, Luz Ilagan, the national chairperson of Gabriela Womens Party, in a rebellion case. She called the affidavit erroneously written and ungrammatically written, to the delight of the 200 or so participants.

Ilagan, accompanied by her children and their spouses, elicited smiles, laughter even, as she narrated her initial reaction upon receiving the affidavit naming her as one of the accomplices in the rebellion case. “My initial reaction when I received it (affidavit), she said, was to correct the grammar.”

But, she pointed out, “I would like to know the answers myself, that is why we are having this activity.”

The room fell silent when Canson, looking every inch like the matriarch of Davaos progressive sector that she is, said that “fighting and struggling is a way of life. Many of us forget the gains of Edsa 1 by allowing GMA (Arroyo) to trample on our rights.”

Lawyer Lilibeth Ladaga called 1017 very funny, very unique! It is actually a re-interpretation of our constitution.”

“The difference between Marcos and Arroyo is clear: Marcos admitted he was a dictator while Gloria Arroyo makes us think that we are living under a democracy but people get arrested or killed,” said lawyer and human-rights advocate Carlos Isagani Zarate. (Bejay C. Absin/

SOLIDARITY. The solidarity of women in times of repression was once again tested. The Free Ourselves forum at the Ateneo last Wednesday became a reunion of sorts for women political activists. ( photo by Gilbert Pacificar)

SHES BACK. Nelia Sancho, one of the convenors of “Free Our Sisters, Free Ourselves,” an organization in the late 80s calling for the freedom of jailed and arrested women leaders, visited Davao City after so many years to join a forum in solidarity for Gabriela national chairperson Luz Ilagan, one of the Davao 8 facing arrest in a rebellion case. ( photo by Gilbert Pacificar)

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