Keynote address of Coni Ledesma
Solidarity and Fight Back Conference
5-7 August 2017
Good morning dear kasama, comrades and friends,
After that rousing welcome with the singing of the IWA Hymn, let me share with you stories of women who have resisted imperialism.
Let me start by telling you the story of a Makibaka activist.
She was an activist in the 1970’s. In the early 1980’s, she was arrested by the military. There was still Martial Law in the Philippines at this time. She was gang raped by the military. When she told me her story, she said that some of the military were even watching the rape from the upper floor, laughing and jeering at her. When they had finished raping her, she crouched in a corner and cried.
“What”, jeered the military men. “A Makibaka crying?”
After some days, the Comander of the military brought her to his house and made her his sex slave. She was his mistress for several months. During that time, she also cleaned his house. She would carefully clean his desk, quietly reading his papers and documents, gathering information and storing them in her memory.
Eventually, she was able to escape. As soon as she could, she made contact with the kasama in the mountains. But as she had been in the hands of the military for so long, the kasama were suspicious of her. At first they wouldn’t believe her.
What she did was to write down all the information she had gathered during her time in the hands of the military. She sent this up to the kasama in the mountains. They realized that all this time, she was loyal to the movement and to the people. They welcomed her and she became a Red Fighter.
The story does not end here. Several years later, during an encounter, she was wounded in the leg, and had to have surgery. So, she was brought down from the mountains for the surgery. It was during this time that the human rights organizations were gathering data on the victims of human rights under the Marcos dictatorship. She was one of the persons who testified, and her testimony, as well as almost 10,000 other human rights victims, won the class suit against the dictator Marcos.
After she had recovered from her leg wound, she went up again to join the New People’s Army. Today, she is still with the masses, living and working with them, teaching, learning from them and fighting with them.
Then there is Sakine. She was a young Kurdish woman, one of the founders of the PKK, the Kurdish Liberationa Movement.
She was arrested by Turkish soldiers. The soldiers cut off her breasts as part of their torture. She endured that, and after several years, was released from prison. She continued with her political work, traveling from one European city to the next, gathering support for the Kurdish struggle.
About three years ago, she was in the Kurdish office in Paris, together with two other Kurdish women, when men broke into their office and shot and killed the three women.
To this day, the French intelligence cannot give answers as to who murdered Sakine and her two women comrades. The man who is supposed to have killed them was later found dead, just before the trial. Since there is no accused, there is also no trial. Who murdered the three Kurdish women remains unsolved.
And there is Bai Bibyaon Ligkayan Bigkay. She is an outstanding indigenous woman leader, the only woman chieftain in the history of the Manobo tribe of the indgenous Lumads, in the Philippines.
No one really knows Bai Bibyaon’s age. Many guess she is in her 90’s. For decades, she has led the Lumad struggle to defend their communities against plunder and militarization. She has led her people in the fight against mining companies, military incursions on their ancestral land, and their march – known as Manilakabayan – from Mindanao to Manila, to bring the attention of Congress, different government agencies, churches, schools and the people in Manila, on the situation of the Lumads and their fight against the incursions being made by the mining companies and multinationals.
And lastly, there is the story of Alyce. Eleven years ago, on July 31, 2006, while she and her doctor husband were bringing their daughter to school, a van blocked their car. Two men started shooting at them on their right and their left.
Her husband was hit on the left shoulder. Alyce covered her husband’s body with hers. 38 cartridges would later be found on the roadway. Seven bullets hit Alyce. But though greviously wounded, she still had time to tell the kasama who had rushed to the scene to help them, that there were papers and documents in the car that needed to brought to safety. She also used her cellphone to ask relatives to take care of her daughters.
Why am I telling you these stories? I wanted to share stories of valiant revolutionary women who stand with the exploited and oppressed, and take their stand against imperialism. Their militance in the face of the worst torture and even death, continues to inspire women and men to take the same class position and join in the fight against imperialism.
There are millions more like them through out the world. Millions whose stories are untold, but who fought or are continuing the fight for liberation from the Beast.
For the aim of the Beast – that is imperialism – is to break the will, to break the spirit of those they arrest, imprison, torture, or in the case of those they kill, to break the spirit of their families and comrades.
When there is oppression, there is resistance to oppression. Or, as Leila Khaled said, ” When there is oppression, it is our duty to resist”. And in the cases I mentioned above, the repression has made the resistance even stronger.
For example, the Kurdish people have been able to build an oasis of self government in northern Syria, in Rojava. There they are building their homes, schools, memorials for their martyrs. They work the soil to provide food for their families. Their soldiers, which include many women soldiers, guard and protect their areas and homes.
The Lumads go back to their lands, flee again, return again. They are a resilient people. They have built schools so the Lumad children and youth will get educated. Wherever they are, be it in their ancestral lands or in the places where they seek refuge, they plant their crops so they can feed themselves. Classes are held in the refugee camps, and at the end of the school year, graduation exercises are held there. Wherever they are, they continue their fight to preserve their land, homes and way of life.
Makibaka is now a strong revolutionary organization. Women in the guerrilla fronts are organized into Makibaka chapters. These guerrilla frontscan be found in 71 out of 82 provinces in the Philippines. Many Makibaka members eventually join the New People’s Army and become Red Fighters.
These are the lessons we learn from the stories of the women I told you about. It is their resilience. The class position they take – to stand with the workers and peasants; to stand with the oppressed and exploited and fight imperialism.
Mao said imperialism is a paper tiger. Yes, that is true. But it is a strong paper tiger. And, as in all tigers, when wounded and dying, are more vicious, more ferocious, because they are fighting to preserve their lives.
So with imperialism. It is growing more vicious and fierce as it struggles through the different crisis it faces. Its viciousness is its militarism. The wars it wages in so many places in the world. In the different methods it uses to try to extinguish the people’s resistance.
That is why we have to increase the resistance to imperialism. Organized anti-imperialist movements have to grow in number throughout the world.
We have to draw in more and more people – more women and men to stand up and fight against imperialism.
To fight in different ways- in the work place, in trade unions, in mass organizations, among the peasants and farm workers, and in the armed struggle.
All sectors have to be awakened to the evils and realities of imperialism. Women. Men. Workers. Peasants. Students. Migrants. Refugees. All oppressed classes.
There is the need to organize resistance to imperialist globalization and war. To struggle and fight for freedom against oppression and exploitation of capitalist and reactionary forces.
In the Philippines, we have a call: Makibaka! Huwag matakot! That means, Struggle. Do not be afraid.
So join me in shouting : Makibak! Huwag matakot!