Original article posted at here: http://www.bulatlat.com/news/7-9/7-9-igorot.htm
Gabriela’s 3rd Nominee is an Igorot Woman, Ex-OFW
Igorot woman, mother, and migrant leader, Flora Baniaga-Belinan exemplifies Pinay power that is woven on the loom of the women’s struggle for empowerment, justice and equality. A nominee of Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP), she will be the strong voice in the House for those who can’t be home – OFWs who are separated from their families and country, and indigenous peoples (IP) who are stripped of their land and cultural identity.
By Voltaire Tupaz
Posted by Bulatlat
Igorot woman, mother, and migrant leader, Flora Baniaga-Belinan exemplifies Pinay power that is woven on the loom of the women’s struggle for empowerment, justice and equality.
A nominee of Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP), she will be the strong voice in the House for those who can’t be home – OFWs who are separated from their families and country, and indigenous peoples (IP) who are stripped of their land and cultural identity.
Woman warrior: her Sagada roots
Flora was given the Igorot name “Konyap” when she was born to the Kankane-ey tribe of Sagada, Mountain Province on March 12, 1958. She was raised in an indigenous peasant family and community. Her father was a World War II veteran while her mother was a farmer.
The challenging circumstances of her childhood nurtured the fighter in her at a very young age. The fourth among seven siblings, Flora at 13 had to help raise her family when her mother passed away. From the small barrio in Sagada called Madongo, she transferred to the town center to live with relatives. While attending high school at St. Mary’s School, she would help sell her aunt’s homemade brownies and would work in her relatives’ farm during weekends.
To continue her studies, Flora mainly supported herself as a working student and domestic helper in Baguio City (246 kms. from Manila). After finishing high school in Baguio Colleges Foundation (BCF), she went to Saint Louis University (SLU) where she obtained her B.A. Social Work in 1982.
Mother and social worker
Flora started as an organizer of the urban poor in Baguio City. Unemployed after graduation, she joined the Urban Poor Assistance Center upon the invitation of an activist uncle. Hence, the beginning of her social involvement.
Flora became very active in her engagements as a social worker. In the course of her organizing work, she immersed with the urban poor and was exposed to their gut issues as well as to the plight of other marginalized sectors. Eventually, she participated in various protest actions and other community activities. Then came her resolve to be part of the movement for social transformation at a time when the political and economic crisis in the country continued to worsen under the crumbling Marcos dictatorship.
Organizing changed many aspects of Flora’s life. In fact, it paved the way for her meeting with Paul Belinan, her husband of 25 years. Paul was also from Sagada but he only met Flora in Baguio. An advocate of workers’ rights, he has been working for the Cordillera Labor Center for quite a long time already.
Flora and Paul have raised two children – Michael, 24, who is now working with a progressive local paper; and Michelle, 16, a nursing student.
Woman migrant leader
Flora and her husband were committed to their social causes but it was hard for them to support the needs of their family from their limited income. Confronted with the urgent need to survive, Flora made the difficult decision of leaving her family to work as a domestic helper in Hong Kong for 12 years.
However, Flora unwaveringly pursued organizing work in Hong Kong. She founded and headed the Pinatud A Saleng Ti Umili (organization of domestic workers from Cordillera) even as she was still adjusting in the foreign land. She also served as an adviser to the Cordillera Alliance-Hong Kong.
Tirelessly, she gathered and organized fellow OFWs. They would maintain communication through the phone and meet at a common place every weekend. Amidst her preoccupation, she still found time to do volunteer work for a counseling institution for distressed OFWs.
Under the banner of Migrante International, Flora was at the forefront of various major advocacies and struggles for the rights and welfare of migrants, especially of women Filipino workers, in Hong Kong. Among these were the victorious campaigns between 1998 and 2003 to stop wage cuts and to scrap state exactions such as authentication fees. At present, together with Filipino migrant groups, she is vigorously campaigning for the scrapping of the new POEA Guidelines which seek to collect more fees and not to protect domestic workers.
Flora has always stood staunchly against violence perpetrated on women migrants including rape and other forms of sexual abuse, maltreatment, and trafficking. She is now taking the lead in the campaign for justice for OFW victims of violence and government criminal neglect.
While in Hong Kong, Flora also promoted indigenous peoples’ rights to land, life, and resources, firmly opposing policies and projects in the homefront that particularly cause the destruction of the environment and exploitation of women indigenous peoples and children.
In 2005, she returned home and founded the Migrante Chapter in Metro Baguio. Recently, she was elected deputy secretary-general for external affairs of GWP.
For her steadfast stance and commitment to promote and defend the rights and welfare of women migrant workers, she was nominated as one of the top three standard bearers of GWP, joining Mindanaoan educator Luz Ilagan and Rep. Liza Maza. Pinoy Era / Posted by Bulatlat.
© 2007 Bulatlat ■ Alipato Publications
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