Home Opinion Columns On activist awardee Joanna Cariño

On activist awardee Joanna Cariño


Joanna Patricia K. Cariño, an Igorot activist, red-tagged as a terrorist by President Rodrigo ‘Digong’ Duterte’s regime, is the first Filipino to be awarded the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights defense and democracy promotion from the Korean May 18 Memorial Foundation. She received the award because, among others, she is the founding member of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), co-chairs the SANDUGO National Alliance of Moros and indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination, and heads SELDA-Northern Luzon which is an organization of former political prisoners.

This was not the Joanna or Jo that entered with me as a freshman at the University of the Philippines – Baguio City in 1968. Giggly with twinkling eyes, exuding a Benguet-Cebuana beauty, she was always ready to party or cheer for our freshman basketball team or the institution’s soccer team. She had expressed crushes on those she found cute among our peers and seniors. She even went through the hazing rights to belong to the sorority of our fraternity. Nonetheless, she aced most of her subjects.

I really don’t know what happened during the break before our sophomore year. Although she maintained her gregariousness, she and her sister, Jennifer (who would die as a New Peoples Army member) were mouthing anti-government, anti-imperialism, and other ism slogans. Running for the student council under the banner of a Progresibo Party, they overwhelmingly lost because we ( I was with the other party) branded them as front of the Kabataang Makabayan. The red scare was so effective then in isolating who we now call progressives.

Jo forged on with her activism until the Marcos dictatorship arrested, tortured, and imprisoned her with her sister, Joji for two years. After her release, Jo would continue with her activism concentrating on the defense of the Igorots’ rights on their ancestral lands. The iconic struggle would be the defense against the Chico dam projects which would have deluge villages and sacred grounds of Igorots in the Cordilleras.

Jo considers the Gwangju award as a “vindication” and proof of the correctness of her advocacy. She said that “It is ironic that while the repressive Philippine Duterte ergmie labels human rights activist such as myself as terrorists, prestigious foreign institutions such as the May 18 Memorial Foundation recognizes my human rights activism as honorable.”

She adds “But we have to prepare ourselves for sacrifice and even death in the struggle against tyrants for people’s democracy and a better world. It is honorable to stand up for democracy and defend human rights, especially for the less unfortunate and downtrodden…

“…We should always remember, we should never forget. The people, united shall never be defeated. Never again to martial law.”

The Gwangju Prize for Human Rights anchors itself in memory of the historic armed uprising against martial law in Gwangju in May 1980 stemming from the violent crackdown on a peaceful demonstration. The Korean government, after the restoration of civilian rule in 1987, honors the significance of the resistance event and honors those who gave their lives in the event. Survivors among the demonstrators established the non-profit May 18 Memorial Foundation.

A far cry from what she was as a freshman over 50 years ago, Jo continues the principles for the reasons her sister, Jennifer, endearingly called Jing-jing, had died for and whose name is now enshrined at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani. In a column I wrote years in 2010, I also payed tribute to their mom, Josefina Kintanar Cariño, calling her as the Tandang Sora of Baguio activists.

“Like the Katipuneros who had Tandang Sora who provided them (Katipuneros) refuge, fed them and tended the wounded; Baguio early activists had Ma’am Cariño who opened her home at Kisad Road for them, fed them, and provided them the venue to enrich their theoretical foundations for the movement – even when dawn sunrays were already slicing through the skies.”

Jo continues to be among the modern Katipuneras. # nordis.net

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