Change is frequently dreamt of but rarely ever done, if only because of its seeming impossibility. It’s easy, then, to forget that hope is an infinite resource that we can give to each other again and again. But a truth that often gets clouded is we are never alone, and we are never wholly defeated.
Meet three people committed to the fight for social change: Lawrence Cusipag, the Program Manager for Social Formation at DAKILA; Ann Dumaliang, a Managing Trustee of the Masungi Georeserve Foundation; and Jona Turalde, a feminist activist. May we always remember that they are one of many, and the struggle for a more just world is a collective effort strengthened by numbers.
THE PHILIPPINE STAR: Can you recount a time when you felt really hopeful or triumphant, and that the work you’re doing will impact the generations to come?
Lawrence: Sa DAKILA, each project na ginagawa namin is a small win towards a bigger cause. Isang parte lang ‘yon ng effort para sa mas malaking kailangang gawin. (Halimbawa yung) reading group namin sa Bagong Silang: nakikita ko na ang mga bata ay nagkakaroon talaga ng interes sa libro. Nabubuhayan ako at narerealize ko na kailangan ko pang tumuloy.
Prior to that, bilang isang edgy teenager na very nihilistic, ang perspective ko sa buhay ay wala namang magbabago at ang buhay ay walang saysay. Ang aking turning point sa totoo lang ay philosophy. Dahil sa kakabasa ng existentialist philosophy, natutunan kong gumawa ng sariling meaning. At kung ang saysay natin ay parehas in terms of shared reality, halimbawa social justice, democracy, or human rights, baka yung tingin nating walang saysay at hindi magbabago ay biglang magbago.
Ann: (Every time I’m) onsite and I see our rangers so passionate about protecting Masungi, that fuels us to stay on track and keep doing the work we do. Even in the simple actions that they take, I take big pride in them because it means from just 20 people loving this area, there are now so many more who’ve learned to understand that it’s worth protecting.
“Our natural heritage is such a huge part of our identity. Yet we have very little consciousness or awareness of what we actually have and how we should be utilizing it in a way that will sustain our country for generations to come.”
Triumphant for me, on a bigger scale, would be winning the Water Changemakers Award and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG) Action Awards. Those affirm the necessity of the work we do, and even if sometimes it feels challenging and lonely, it tells us that we are on the right track and this is important work.
Jona: (It’s) always striking going back to the community, kasi right now I’m always doing policy work, influencing global discussions and papers. A year ago, nagkaroon kami ng sexuality education workshop with Aeta youth. When they realize na may ganito pala, na mali pala yung nakagisnan nila, it always makes me hopeful na little by little, we’re changing the way we think of sexuality, gender, relationships, our boundaries, and our bodily autonomy.
May mga older feminists or activists din na although they didn’t experience the right sexuality education, they’re very passionate to support na the next generations will have genuine or at least workable (sex education). Kapag nakikita ko sila, (napapaisip) din ako na dapat I work hard like them. You make them both an inspiration and your mentor.
Complete this sentence: “I envision a Philippines where…”
Lawrence: I envision a Philippines where individuals are capacitated and empowered to develop their full potential. Maraming hindrance (diyan). For instance, ang isang manggagawa, hindi niya (nakakamit) yung full potential niya kasi narereduce lang siya sa isang machine na paulit-ulit ang ginagawa sa isang araw. Para lang tayong kolateral sa isang sistema (kung saan) kailangan nating gawin yung gampanin natin or else mamamatay tayo sa gutom.
Ann: I envision a Philippines that is rooted in protecting our biodiversity, respecting our natural heritage and ecosystems, and recognizing how these are a pillar of our growth and our potential as a country. It’s very important what Rizal said na kailangan mong lumingon sa pinanggalingan mo para makarating sa paroroonan mo, and our natural heritage is such a huge part of our identity. Yet we have very little consciousness or awareness of what we actually have and how we should be utilizing it in a way that will sustain our country for generations to come. We’re not here as colonizers in our own land; this is our only home.
Jona: I envision a Philippines where all young people and adolescents have the capacity to have their own agency and right to decide about their life, their sexual lives, and their reproductive lives.
What can we do to get there?
Lawrence: Paano ba natin icacapacitate lahat ng Pilipino? Hindi siya messianic na ang aktibisita ay pupunta sa isang community para sabihing, “Ako ang magliligtas sa inyo at ako yung magiging boses niyo.” The harder task is to empower people to have their own voice.
Sa DAKILA, naniniwala kami na ang individual ay may capacity maging bayani, at ang bayani na ‘yon ay matapang, mapanaliksik, makatao, malikhain, at mapagmahal. (Siya ay) fully capacitated individual na may critical thinking at kritikal sa sarili, sa kanyang kapwa, at sa awtoridad. At itong pagiging bayani, para siyang virus – nakakahawa siya sa ibang tao. At kapag ang mga bayani ay nagbabayanihan, makakabuo ito ng mas mabuti at mas mapagpalayang bayan.
Ann: We need to understand our natural heritage, our biodiversity, and our ecosystems not just from the perspective of utilization but also of how it contributes to who we are as a people. At the same time, I hope we can give better attention to environmental defenders at the frontlines of the work because they’re our champions in protecting the last of these critical spaces that we all rely on.
Most important is a government that recognizes the importance of our natural heritage and has the willpower to implement on-ground – we can have a lot of laws but nagkakatalo tayo on implementation and the ability to bring everyone together to make that difference that we want.
Jona: (We have to) have a whole-society approach, but at the same time, (we must) not compromise. Sexuality is the core of you as a person – it’s your personhood, your truth. We can only have fulfilling, satisfying reproductive and sexual lives if we acknowledge our sexualities and our identities.
“(By) talking about our sexuality, you understand na hindi ka nag-iisa in this struggle. We have the same experiences and we really have to be together in solidarity.”
(We also must) be in community and solidarity. We have to involve as many people as we can from different backgrounds and go beyond our echochambers. I think that’s also the power of narratives and stories: (by) talking about our sexuality, you understand na hindi ka nag-iisa in this struggle. We have the same experiences and we really have to be together in solidarity.
Lawrence Cusipag is the Program Manager for Social Formation at DAKILA. He also organizes community reading groups for the children of Bagong Silang.
Ann Dumaliang is a National Geographic Explorer, Ashoka Fellow, and a Managing Trustee of the Masungi Georeserve Foundation, a conservation project powered by geotourism, education, and sustainable development located in Baras, Rizal.
Jona Turalde is a young feminist activist whose work spans across the intersections of reproductive & gender justice, comprehensive sexuality education, global health & adolescent girls' rights.