Speech of Vernie Yocogan-Diano of Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center (CWEARC) during the Tribute for Flora.
In Roman mythology, Flora is goddess of flowering plants. Biology says that flora are the plants of a particular region, habitat or geological period. It is part of the work of social scientists to take into account the flora and fauna of a community or a region being important in determining the biological materials that is life-sustaining for the people and that needs to be defended. My grandma, Irene Lubang Kinaud (she went to life eternal in 1995) is one of Flora’s godparents. I wonder if my grandma knew about that as a meaning of Auntie Flora’s name. Those who know the mythological and biological meaning of flora and know Auntie Flora would find the definition very much fitting of Manang Flora’s personality. Flora is full of life. Flora is as pretty as a flower and she is blooming all the time as a person, as a woman, as a mother, of course as a wife to Paul, as a sister, as an aunt, as a friend and a colleague, as a social worker and as an activist. Anyone who encountered Flora, anyone who had been touched or inspired by Flora will always say something about Flora’s blooming, vibrant and warm personality.
Such personality is very fitting to her profession and vocation as a social worker. Her choice of that profession had been inspired by her humble village in Nadatngan in Northern Sagada and by her family and social circle who molded her to serve those with lesser opportunity. She took that consciousness when she graduated in Sagada’s St. Mary’s High School in 1977. She finished social work in Baguio’s Saint Louis University. Little did Flora know that her love and immersion in her profession would lead her to a less-travelled path. She aimed for a different commitment of serving the most marginalized and the least visible groups of people or communities. She would have landed a good position at the government’s social welfare department. She would have accepted jobs with promising financial and social compensation. But Flora was consistent of her being a different flowering plant. She was already raising two children in the mid 80s with her husband Paul and the challenge to raise a family was getting immense. Yet she bloomed differently. She chose to use her profession to help urban poor communities in Baguio, organizing these communities into dynamic and self-reliant organizations and cooperatives. Flora contributed dearly to the empowerment of these groups, pushing the city government then and concerned line agencies to fulfill their obligations in providing much needed services of livelihood, secured shelter and social services.
Flora was a dedicated social worker. But she was also a mother who needed to provide. In the early 1990’s, she made a big turn in ensuring a future for their fast growing children, Michael and Michelle. Flora went to Hong Kong in 1992 and worked there as a domestic worker. For 12 years, she grew and bloomed as an organizer of Cordillera domestic workers, who were all women. She not only worked to support her family back home but she dispensed her social work functions among migrant workers voluntarily and selflessly. She was indefatigable at attending to countless cases of abused domestic workers whose contracts were illegal or violated, suffered inhuman treatment from their employers and were not protected of their rights. Her connection with United Filipinos in Hong Kong, Migrante, with service organizations like the Bethune House, Mission for Filipino Migrant Workers and Asia Pacific Migrant Mission made their work effective in providing shelter and legal assistance and in connecting with families of distressed workers and networking with support groups in Hong Kong and at home. But more than these welfare services, Flora did a key role in the awareness-raising, organizing and mobilizing of Cordillera domestic workers to enjoy humane treatment as overseas workers. Flora bloomed as a regular figure in dialogues and rallies at the Philippine Consulate, in mobilizations of Filipino and other foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong and with the Hong Kong media. She counseled domestic workers not only on work-related issues but on issues with their families. Her organizing efforts gave birth to formations of Cordillera domestic workers like the Pinatud a Saleng and Cordillera Alliance. These Cordillera formations served as the avenues of connecting issues at home and of domestic workers in Hong Kong. Migrant leaders whom she trained set up and led Cordillera migrant organizations in countries where they moved like Binnadang in Toronto, Canada.
The year 2004 changed for Flora. She was 4th nominee to the Migrante Partylist, a mechanism of representation of marginalized groups in the Philippine Congress. That paved her desire to come home, be with her family and continue her work in the Cordillera. She worked as a staff of the migrant’s desk of CWEARC. Her program resulted to organizing former migrant workers and their families into Migrante Metro Baguio. The migrant desk which is mandatory by law in each barangay was put to operation in certain communities in Baguio where Flora and her team had a good working relations with local government units. More frequent engagements with official service-providers for overseas Filipino workers (OFW) – the Overseas Workers and Welfare Administration (OWWA) and POEA, and other service providers from non-government sector, were made. In 2007, Flora was chosen as 3rd nominee of the Gabriela Women’s Party as a voice for migrants and indigenous women.
Flora may not have landed in Philippine Congress but she bloomed in the congresses of movements of women, migrants and indigenous peoples. In her journey as a true-blue social worker until her ailment to her final breath, she was with the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, building the chapter in Benguet particularly in mine-affected communities.
Other true-blue social workers or activists die from bullets released by the state’s security agents. Others die of ailments. Flora died as a result of the latter. Flora fought against the social cancer. Her character as a relentless fighter was seen as she courageously fought against colon cancer. Like the way she handles difficult moments, the word retreat is not her language, her language is pursue and win, her art is try and triumph. Most of all, her art is being warm and compassionate. No wonder she was an effective counselor. No wonder she was an effective organizer. She always demonstrated a strength in regaining a loss, in rectifying and overcoming a weakness and in proclaiming a victory.
Flora, go now and rest. To her family and relatives, thanks for sharing Flora to her wider family of migrants, women, youth, farmers and indigenous peoples in struggle. Let us be inspired by the selfless and fervent life of Flora. # nordis.net