For Immediate Release

March 9, 2009

Reference: Valerie Francisco, Chairperson, Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment,

Filipinas March in Remembrance of Rebelyn Pitao and the Continuation of the Legacy of Militant Women’s Struggle

New York, New York- This past Sunday in Union Square Park, more than a hundred women and men gathered to commemorate the 99th anniversary of International Women’s Day with the theme of Bail Out Women and Our Communities to raise awareness of the economic crisis. Over 30 Filipino Americans from Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE) and BAYAN USA marched with other groups from New York City including Al-Awda NY (Palestine Right to Return Coalition), Stella D’Oro Workers who are on strike, and the Women’s Fightback Network, among others. Filipinas from FiRE emphasized crucial issues facing Filipina women here and in the Philippines, including the recent death of Rebelyn Pitao, the Visiting Forces Agreement, and the ongoing economic crisis.

“We are marching today because we are feeling the slow choke of the financial crisis whether it be the loss of our mother’s jobs in healthcare or the steep tuition hikes in our schools making education less and less accessible. We want to make sure American people know that our tax dollars go to the deployment of US troops in the Philippines when there is a need right here in our communities,”stated Jackelyn Mariano, External Education Discussion Director of FiRE. The budget cuts running rampant in New York city institutions have been hammering down on the Filipino community here from the closing of hospitals in Queens, lack of employment and increase in education costs. Disproportionately Filipino women are bearing the brunt as breadwinners and their families are suffering the consequences.

In a speech made during the rally program, Christina Hilo, Vice Chair of FiRE voiced the rich history of Filipino women’s struggle, “We celebrate the women who have paved the way for women, and those women who have defended their communities and who have fought for our independence including Gabriela Silang in the 1700s and Lorena Barros who organized during times of Martial Law. Today, we dedicate this International Women’s Day to Rebelyn Pitao who was abducted, raped, and killed by the military because her father was a leader of the New People’s Army. She did not deserve to die, she was a 20-year old substitute elementary school teacher. Her brutal murder will only add more fuel to our fire to continue to organize our communities for genuine democracy.” Hilo, along with the group of Filipino women from FiRE, marched in solidarity with the thousands of women who marched in the Philippines just the day commemorating the life of Pitao.

After a program in Union Square, the crowd marched to the symbolic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory where 146 garment workers, mostly women, died in 1911. FiRE members chanted and rallied with placards and huge banners that said “JUNK VFA!” and “END MILITARIZED VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN”. Filipino women in the US have renewed their vigor in speaking out against US military troops in the Philippines since the debates over the detention of Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, convicted of raping a Filipina in 2006, emerged.

Although there are no “formal” bases in the Philippines, the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) allows the US military various privileges like coming to the Philippines without visas, unlike Filipino migrants to the US, and immunity from particular crimes. The increase of U.S. troops leads to an increase in danger and harm to Filipino women and children who are rendered as “collateral damage” or “rest and recreation” objects. Currently, the VFA is the protective sheet that keeps Lcpl. Smith under the protection of the U.S. Embassy. The VFA is a looming example of the unequal character of the US-RP relations and threatens not only Philippine national sovereignty but the welfare of women and children.

FiRE is a Filipino women’s grassroots organization located in New York City that upholds the rights of women, and connects the Filipina diaspora to the ongoing women’s movement in the Philippines with GABRIELA. FiRE, a member of GABRIELA USA, is a chapter under GABRIELA Philippines.



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