Somehow, each one of us marks an important event, a life changing moment that has made great impact not only in the microcosm of our personal lives, of our particular local environments but also in the interrelated microsystems that constitute a macro-cosmic web where we are but a tiny speck among the elements.
And so, as the year closes and a new one begins, of particular focus in this time of the year is Human Rights as we annually celebrate December 10 as the International Day for Human Rights. Perhaps, to some, the particular context of this day is better submerged in the archives of history if not literally under the floods of water as well as of blood… yet a story waiting to be told to receptive listeners including myself as it continues to beckon and find meaning in our continuing journey as human beings.
Indeed, five years ago, I had a life changing moment, a turning point that has challenged my very own beliefs, understanding and work on human rights.
In September 16 2005, I had to join thousands and thousands of men and women in apparent diaspora outside our country leaving my two young children and their passionately loving father. Temporarily, and so we thought and comforted ourselves. With a husband being increasingly threatened together with colleagues for our work on human rights while seeking the elusive grail of peace amidst the increasing grip of terror in the country, I crossed the sea of uncertainties and landed in Hong Kong to work as one of ‘the modern day slaves’ . I became one with those that the government praised as ‘the living heroes of the land’ or for simpler generics , classified as Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW). We had our working papers facilitated by a private employment agency accredited by both governments of our home country and our destination country at a cost that bound us in debts. To supposedly protect us amidst rampant reports of abuses suffered by overseas workers, we were warmly welcomed at the airport and were given kits about our basic rights and agencies to contact in case need arises.
Like any other worker in a new environment, I went through a stage of orientation and adjustment. I lasted two months and ended up illegally terminated which I gladly accepted as a liberation from a home that treated a domestic helper as a creature who must be inferior in all aspects from the masters of the house, and expected to complete a long list of tasks that left me three to four hours sleep every night.
While looking for another employer, I had opportunity to listen to the stories of other domestic helpers and overseas workers. My short story was nothing compared to their saga. Of untold stories of physical as well as psychological abuse until they learned to find ways to survive. Sadly, at times returning the violence with violence to their children wards. They learned to weave their own myths and find their own comforting symbols as they kept their dreams of giving their families back home a better life while dealing with the dehumanization in their work circumstances.
I did find a new employer, of better breed and chemistry and so I signed a new contract.
Tragically, a night before I arrived home for a brief family reunion before starting to work with my new employers, Pepe, my husband and comprehensive friend was assassinated by alleged elements of the military in November 28, 2005. A cold blooded treacherous murder of a civilian labeled as ‘enemy-of-the-state’, with 22-gunshot wounds in the darkness of the night and the heat amidst the tobacco fields of San Esteban, Ilocos Sur, Northern Philippines. He was honored as a people’s martyr and buried December 7 in his hometown Pagudpud Ilocos Norte. The case is lost in the jargon of legal process and raging sentiments while the constraints of poverty reduced it to the rising statistics of human collateral damages of war and terror mongering.
In our last conversation over the phone, we shared in hearty laughter and much expectation towards our meeting the next day to spill out our stories that should fill the gap of the two months we were separated. Our daughters were excitedly waiting a few more hours to be hugged by both their mother and their father.
That moment never came. For instead, it became a moment of brutal reality that I was widowed at the age of 33, with young children asking questions that until now remain unanswered. “Who killed Papa and…Why?”
Questions that go beyond the politics and economics of Human Rights. Questions that seek answers beyond the legal and moral parlance of social justice and human rights. And unless such questions are sufficiently addressed, it is another tragedy that the violation that has occurred upon the offended as well as the offenders continues to be a wellspring of further violence and suffering.
Certainly, I am not the only widow nor my children’s the only generation who have experienced such pain and raised such questions. Of pain that goes beyond the physical body and penetrates our living memories beyond our own time. Of questions that seek for answers in humane, divine and cosmic courts.
And yet, as we embrace such longing and woundedness, we also embrace the reality of healing… of understanding… of learning… of rising from our fall. Kasiyana, kasiyana… we recognize our vulnerabilities, our imperfections … yet the light of hope enlivens us to move on… to renew our mind, our body, our spirit as we grow… to restore the shattered vessel of peace we so yearn for, that we may truly partake of abundant life for all.
For if there is anything that I will forever cherish from the sacred union that I have lived and continue to breath with the noble and gentle souls I have encountered in Pepe and many others… it is the sanctity and eternity of love, life and liberty… It goes with this conviction that I continue to denounce the senseless violence bred by the vicious cycle of war and poverty that continues to desecrate the divinity of our humanity.
And, to those who offered these people on the altar of greed, war and fear, and those who continue to perpetuate the violation of human dignity and integrity in gross and subtle forms, I beg you, to please… heed that gentle voice, a soft whisper in the purest corner of your heart. It is subtle and elusive as peace yet it does exist. That divine and humane voice that pleads for mercy just as Pepe did, just as I do and a million more voices…
Indeed, as we now celebrate our Human Rights, we also rejoice in our inherent capacities for healing the wounds within ourselves as in the other, redeeming our options of becoming human.
Pepe is Jose Riveral Manegdeg III, a layleader of the Rural Missionary of the Philippines. He is from the coastal region of Ilocos, Northern Luzon. He was assassinated at the age of 37 yrs old for his work on peace and social justice, human rights and ecological protection. Dom-an his widow is a health worker and bamboo nose flute player who belongs to the indigenous peoples in the mountains of Cordillera, Northern Luzon, Philippines. They were colleagues as Human Rights Defenders.
Kasiyana Peace and Healing Initiatives.