A fight for freedom in the Philippines, a military coup in Myanmar, a state of emergency in El Salvador, and a struggle to correct history on Amah Mutsun land. 

The Anakbayan Santa Cruz’s Human Rights Defenders Panel brought speakers from all of these impacted communities to the Rachel Carson College Red Room on Jan. 29. The event aimed to inform and mobilize members of the Santa Cruz community.

Anakbayan Santa Cruz, part of the larger Anakbayan Organization, empowers Filipino youth internationally to fight for sovereignty in the Philippines.

In addition to the discussion of demand for national sovereignty in the Philippines, speakers from the Committee in Solidarity with People of El Salvador (Bay Area CISPES), the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, and the Myanmar Student Union were also featured at the event. The Secretary General of Anakbayan Santa Cruz, who goes by Ino, emphasized the need for international solidarity.

“There’s an ever-worsening crisis, not just in the Philippines, but globally,” said Ino. “We always try to bolster international solidarity through events we hold.” 

In addition to covering both local and international events, each presenter explored the role of imperialism in fostering global tragedies.

“A seam line throughout all atrocities mentioned is imperialism, specifically U.S. imperialism,” Ino said.

Anakbayan members Thu-Ha Cao (left) and Lucy Liu (right) checked in event attendees as they arrived at the Red Room. Liu, a first-year at UCSC, joined the organization last quarter. Cao, a senior at Santa Cruz High, said that the planning for this event began earlier in the fall quarter of 2022. Photo by Yitong Lei.

Freedom for the Philippines

The Filipino fight for sovereignty did not dissipate when the U.S. officially declared the country independent in 1946. The U.S. has retained control over industries, economic systems, and culture.

“All these different countries have an economic hold over the Philippines,” said Ino, “There’s the military hold with unequal military treaties, and then cultural control which is prevalent in what professions people aspire to be or the typical beauty standards in society.”

Anakbayan has played a crucial role in actualizing national sovereignty, ousting U.S. military bases from the Philippines in the ’90s. Their ongoing initiatives focus on developing a national economy that serves the interests of all citizens by holding marches and protests demanding reformation of the current system. 

Filipino activists and organizers have been working to pass the Philippines Human Rights Act (PHRA), a bill that would limit U.S. assistance to Philippine law enforcement until demands for decreased military activity and provision for journalist and activist rights have been met. Photo by Yitong Lei.

Murder In Myanmar 

In August 2021, Myanmar’s military leader, Min Aung Hlaing, declared himself prime minister, catalyzing civil disobedience and peaceful protesting throughout the nation. 

Throughout the defenders panel, Myanmar Student Union speakers denounced the military’s response, informing the crowd that there have been 1,600 deaths and 12,500 individuals detained since the coup.  

Campaigns with calls of “Stop Killing Our Students” and “Change 4 Myanmar” have taken root internationally as ways to raise awareness and mobilize efforts to address the issue. The Myanmar Student Union specifically focuses its efforts on advocating for and uniting international youth. 

Solidarity in El Salvador

In March 2022, multiple homicides over the span of two days led Nayib Bukele, president of El Salvador, to declare a state of exception.

During this state of emergency, restrictions are placed on rights to assembly, privacy, access to a lawyer, and access to information related to one’s incarceration, such as reason for arrest and time of detention. 

El Salvador remains in a state of exception after five renewals of the declaration. Using military and police force, there have been 61,000 arrests and 90 deaths. With the United States funding the presidential administration, El Salvador’s military force has gone from 11,000 to 40,000 soldiers. 

Organizations like the Committee in Solidarity With People of El Salvador (CISPES) and El Diario CoLatino continue to lead initiatives to support the people of El Salvador and denounce the U.S. government’s support of Bukele.

Keiko Utsumi, a second-year who joined Anakbayan this school year, helped moderate the event. “We can feel empowered through knowledge, and in knowing the situation, we feel motivated to take action,” said Utsumi. Photo by Yitong Lei.

A Tribe’s Tragedy

The Amah Mutsun tribal band inhabited California for thousands of years before the first European settlers arrived. 

Estimates suggest that anywhere between 50 to 100 million indigenous people were killed for resisting colonial control.

“This destruction and domination is never ending, it’s just evolving,” said Amah Mutsun Tribal Band chairman Valentin Lopez.

To this day, stolen sacred items of the Amah Mutsun tribe remain unreturned in California museums and the totality of their history is not accurately portrayed in most educational programs.

After years of colonization and forced assimilation, the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band is determined to heal by informing the public of their true history. 

International Solidarity 

Members of Anakbayan acknowledged that hearing about global atrocities can elicit a sense of hopelessness or exhaustion, but asserted that activism can go beyond those feelings. 

Shirts from Anakbayan’s previous events, as well as shirts brought in by the other organizations, were sold at the merchandise table alongside prints, postcards, and other artwork. Photo by Yitong Lei.

“If folks don’t have the capacity to be sad, there’s a lot of roles for creatives or speakers or writers within any organization’s efforts,” said Anakbayan member Keiko Utsumi. 

This sentiment was mirrored in a table toting artwork, clothing, and other paraphernalia for purchase at the event’s entrance, some of which was created by members.

Ino stressed that knowledge is power and remaining informed is key to holding those in power accountable for the overlooked results of their decisions. 

“I think most people wouldn’t want there to be these human rights abuses in the Philippines funded by our tax dollars, but people don’t feel like they have a say and, in some ways, are made to be complacent.”