Judy Taguiwalo’s Story: An Activist, Political Prisoner, and Mother during the 1986 Philippine EDSA People Power Revolution
The 25th day of February is a historical day for the Philippines as it is the day that Filipinos claimed their liberty that was denied for 14 years. It was on this day in 1986 when Filipinos resisted together as millions gathered along Epifanio De los Santos Avenue (EDSA, formerly known as Highway 54 in Metro Manila) to march a peaceful protest against the bloody regime of a dictatorship under the Marcos administration. And this year, February 25, 2021, marks the 35th anniversary of the People Power Revolution that shaped the Philippine history. It is also on this day that Filipinos commemorate their fellowmen who persevered to achieve our long-sought freedom despite costing them their lives and welfare.
One of those people who constantly persevered in these collective efforts is Judy M. Taguiwalo. Ma’am Judy to her students, she is a Filipina social worker and activist and was also a former secretary of the Philippines’ Department of Social Welfare and Development. On the 35th anniversary of the People Power Revolution, she reminisced about a part of her life that justifies her passion to continue her endeavor. Being a social worker that she is, Judy experienced multitude of ups and downs throughout her life, especially at the advent of Martial Law in the Philippines. She also remained steadfast in pursuing the interest of the Filipino people despite risking her life as a mother, as a sibling, and as a friend. No wonder her unwavering commitment is recognized by her fellow Filipinos as her life experiences could teach us a lesson or two in resisting the impending repetition of dictatorship in the Philippines. In an interview with Judy, she narrated her experiences on a more personal level.
BEFORE MARTIAL LAW
Exposure to the realities of Philippine society led Judy to living a life understanding the situation of Filipinos. She learned the value of resistance when she became a college student at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, the country’s premiere state university, in the 1960s. According to her, this era is a time where everything is questioned. She sat down with indigenous people and saw how hard it was to survive a day in their situation. Seeing social stratification more clearly, she realized that there should be a voice that represents the best interests of this group of people. This moment built up her turning point of becoming an activist who aims to voice out the concerns of the minority and the oppressed.
She then started to become more involved in various initiatives of her university, including being a member of Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (Association of Democratic Youth), a mass youth organization of students who pushed for the ideology of democracy in Marcos’ pre-Martial Law administration. They protested in 1969 to seek the independence of student publications from the hold order of school paper advisers in pursuit of freedom of expression. She also became a part of the movement to regularize the employees of her beloved university. She also joined the First Quarter Storm of 1970, a series of protests mostly organized by students from various universities to condone police brutalities and injustices. She then joined the organization Malayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan (Free Movement of the New Women) that recognizes women's role in the world of activism. Later on, she started organizing rallies such as the all-women rally in 1971, KKK or Kababaihan Kontra sa Kahirapan (Women Against Poverty), whose aim is to further empower women as a significantly equal force in bringing about various social changes. Leading these movements under the Marcos regime is already a difficult feat, but little did she know that her hardships were about to take a toll until the day of Martial Law began.
DURING MARTIAL LAW
After the declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines on September 23, 1972, all forms of organizations were declared illegal. This prompted Judy's decision to go underground. In July 1973, in Ilo-Ilo City, Judy and other underground organizers were arrested and brought to Camp Del Gado where she and other political detainees were tortured.
On their first night in the Camp, Judy was water cured—forced to intake large quantities of water in a short time. And on her second night, she was forced to sit naked in a block of ice for hours while the police officers interrogated her. "You have to be very determined not to give information that will harm others," she mentioned as she braved the torture she has experienced to protect her colleagues.
Caption: Judy’s Mugshot on her 1st Arrest
Being a political prisoner did not limit her to exhibit her commitment as an organizer. She and other detainees went on a hunger strike after the prison guards hurt two male political prisoners before Christmas. They acted out and sang 'Martsa ng Kababaihan' (March of Women) with lyrics 'Kababaihan gumising ka, bumangon at magkaisa' (Women wake up, get-up and unite).
In January 1974, Judy was transferred to Camp Lapu-Lapu in Cebu province and was moved again to Ipil-Ipil, a minimum detention center located in Fort Bonifacio, in March 1974. "The primary task inside the prison is for you to get out through whatever means. Either you get released or you find your way out for you to join the resistance." This mindset led her to a lucky escape with two female and three male detainees on the rainy night of November 1, 1974, after they followed individuals from the Fort Bonifacio cemetery, leading them into Highway 54, wherein they rented a cab and fled.
After her escape, she never had any second thoughts to continue what she does. "I continued organizing based on the actual interest of the people and linked it with the bigger social problems," Judy stated on why she continued being an underground organizer despite the limitations she experienced as a fugitive and the threats she received during that time.
AFTER THE MARTIAL LAW
Although Martial Law was lifted on January 17, 1981, the Marcos administration continued the abuse of power in preservation of the dictatorship. A decade after her escape, Judy was forcibly dragged and arrested for the second time by a policeman in the streets of Angeles, Pampanga, on January 28, 1984, while carrying a four-month-old baby in her womb. She has experienced a different kind of torture in her second arrest; this time, she was tortured mentally.
"Unlike the physical torture before, this one is a mental torture. I was woken up every night, comparing my life with my friends through pictures and officers telling me to surrender. They also lent me a book about a pregnant woman who is searching for her journalist husband in America that was abducted, among others," she said.
In June 1984, Judy gave birth to her second daughter. By that time, the Philippine economy was in great recession, and the cracks of the dictatorship started to show. It was when she sensed that everything would soon end as "the ferment was really strong, but the ferment didn't happen overnight", she said, as it took years of planning and organizing for radical groups and organizations against the dictatorship before the storm happened--a storm that was triggered by the assasination of Senator and Chief Opposition Leader of the Martial Law, Benigno Aquino Jr.
Caption: Judy together with her children and colleagues after she was released as a political prisoner
After being imprisoned for so long, Judy was officially released on March 1, 1984, three years after the conclusion of the Martial Law. According to her, it felt euphoric since all political prisoners were released. There was also a rally on March 8, 1984, right after the founding of the General Assembly Binding Women for Reforms, Integrity, Equality and Action or GABRIELA, a leftist Filipino organization that advocates women issues, where she participated together with her baby and other women to celebrate.
THE PEAK OF EDSA REVOLUTION 1
Despite the conclusion of Martial Law, the Marcos administration still remained in office and planned to prolong their stay even more. The dictatorship, however, faced the build-up of ferment when the well-known EDSA People Power Revolution 1 finally reached its zenith on February 22-25 of 1986, successfully overthrowing the dictatorship that has been long overdue. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos marched towards EDSA for this peaceful protest that ousted Marcos from office. This is a historical period of restoration of democracy and the transition to the Cory Aquino administration.
At that time, however, Judy continued to harbor her passion as an activist. Scanning through different organizations, she noticed no national organization for peasant women. This made her decide to help establish AMIHAN (National Federation of Peasant Women), an organization that calls for a genuine agrarian reform, national industrialization and an end to all forms of exploitation and discrimination against women, because Judy had seen how difficult their lives were during the Martial Law and how instrumental they are in effecting change.
Caption: Judy on her years of teaching in the University of the Philippines
She was also offered to teach in UP right after EDSA Revolution 1. But this was rather short-lived because of the Mendiola Massacre in 1987--an incident that took place in Mendiola Street in Manila wherein State Security Forces violently dispersed the farmers’ march to Malacanang Palace, calling out for a solid government action on land reformation. Furthermore, Lean Alejandro of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance) and Rolando Olalia of Kilusang Mayo Uno (May First Labor Movement), both progressive organizations, were killed because of their advocacies for the Filipino workers. These events triggered fellow advocates and activists like her to stand against the abuse of power and injustice.
AFTER EDSA REVOLUTION 1
Even though they were happy that a dictator was ousted, the dictatorship however, is still there. According to Judy, "The People Power enabled the end to the dictatorship, but the systemic change did not occur." As said in the Filipino song ‘Tatsulok’ (Triangle), there was just a change of who will sit at the top of the social triangle, but the structure is still the same – unequal social relations remain.
Judy remained an advocate for peasants seeking land reform. However the head of the Philippine Commission on Women that was appointed by then President Corazon Aquino did not fully support the advocacy. "Under the Aquino residency, land reform would remain in the realm," she mentioned while stating that the agreement only mentioned the cease of any violence. However, the peasant women would have wanted land, jobs and equality more than just a passive agreement of peace. This turnout even emphasized her notion about the greater need to change a system of governance, instead of just replacing them.
As she fast-forwards her life, Judy says that forever does not exist in tyranny. Politicians may have the money, the power, and the soldier, but at the end of the day, the citizens would resist because politicians ruled for their own self-interest for maintaining power. “It is not enough to change the person in Malacañang,” (Malacañang is the White House of the Philippines) she said.
"People Power played an important role in ending tyranny, but no major shift will happen if you only change the people in Malacañang. Political dynasties were retained, no land reforms, death continues, and subservience to the foreign countries remained," she said. "There really was no justice. There is no torturer or general who was brought to justice after the People Power," she added.
For Judy, the experiences of the Philippines at present is like a déjà vu: “a continuing past”, as Renato Constantino, a leftist Filipino Historian, said. Except that the person in Malacañang is different, but is still using the same martial rule without Martial Law – the denial of ABS-CBN Franchise, the biggest broadcasting network in the Philippines, and the declaration of Martial Law in Marawi, a city in Lanao del Sur, Mindanao to name a few.
“During Martial Law, there is no warrant of arrest. You do not have to be brought to court—that is the nature of the Anti-Terror Act today. They can arrest you on the say-so of the National Task Force. “Salvaging”, as they had called it during Martial Law, is when you will get kidnapped, killed, and your remains will just be found on the streets, or you will just disappear,” she recalled.
"Just like what happened during the Martial Law, now we have extrajudicial killings where not only the “drug addicts” were being killed but also the attorneys, judges, human rights defenders, and peasant organizers. “If they are not killed, they will be arrested for fake violations just like the case of Lady Ansalem who is a journalist and was already ordered for release from February but is not yet released until now,” Judy said.
However, she emphasized that this cycle of oppression does not mean it is unchangeable. “There is an end to tyranny,” she said. The People Power can prove it. However, it is not enough to only change the one who is at the top of the social triangle, we have to address that “tatsulok” (triangle of stratification). “We have to look at why so many of our people remained so poor after so many years,” she said.
And to love our country means that we have to know its life by heart, for one cannot give a proper intervention without a context. “Love history. Learn from it not as an intellectual exercise. But to continue the history and take part in it, the question will always be—to whom are you for? For yourself? For your family? Or for your nation? We cannot separate ourselves and our families from what our nation is,” she emphasized. Because at the end of the day, our identities are intertwined with our country’s history. Only citizens with enough care for the country would accept that one’s personal upbringing also needs the consideration of social awareness to prevent our country’s darkest history from happening again.
We are very grateful to Ma’am Judy Taguiwalo for generously sharing her inspiring life story with us.
The interview and this blog post were done and written by the GYLA PH Founders: Aaron John Duque (BS Applied Math Major in Finance, Ateneo de Manila University), Jemimah Isaig (BS Computer Science, University of the Philippines - Diliman), Joellyn Aplacador (BA International Studies Major in European Studies, De La Salle University - Manila) and Josielle Guevarra (BA Communication Research, University of the Philippines - Diliman). Blog photos and the cover photo were made by John Eros Templonuevo (BS Physics, De La Salle University - Manila) and Maria Carmella Ysabelle Cañero (BS Business Administration Major in Marketing Management, Miriam College). Dissemination of the blog was led by Anne Kristel Mangarin (BS Management of Applied Chemistry, Ateneo de Manila University) and John Darrow Amorosa (BS Architecture, Polytechnic University of the Philippines).