by Sharon Maeda
Throughout Women’s History Month the Emerald will be featuring profiles of local women who have left an indelible impact on the King County area.
On June 1, 1981, Cindy Domingo’s life would change forever. On that day, her brother Silme Domingo and his fellow union officer, Gene Viernes, were gunned down in broad daylight at their Pioneer Square union hall. At the time, Cindy was a staff member at the national headquarters of KDP – Union of Democratic Filipinos – in Oakland. A KDP staffer escorted her on the first plane back home to Seattle and she never left.
For eight years, Cindy, along with her former University of Washington friend and activist, Elaine Ikomo Ko, led the Committee for Justice for Domingo/Viernes (CJDV). Silme Domingo lived long enough to let paramedics know the name of one of the hitmen. That led to two hitmen and eventually, the corrupt union president, Tony Baruso, being sentenced to prison for life without possibility of parole. But, the families and CJDV believed from the beginning, that the Philippine dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, was implicated. It was well known that Baruso had a relationship with Marcos and proudly displayed a framed photo of them together in the ILWU 37 office.
Domingo and Viernes were reformers who were elected to leadership to rid the union of corruption. They were also anti-Marcos activists who led the ILWU International resolution to send a team to the Philippines to observe Marcos’ treatment of organized labor there. Shortly before the assassinations of Domingo and Viernes, Baruso had gone to San Francisco, staying in a hotel across from the Philippine consulate.
This and many details were presented by the two families’ attorneys in a wrongful death trial in 1989. The estate of Ferdinand Marcos was found liable after twenty days of testimony that was more chilling as a great crime novel. This remains the only successful trial on U.S. soil against a foreign dictator. The families eventually won a $23.5 million judgment by the jury and the judge; the families ended up getting significantly less from the Marcos Estate.
Throughout those years, Cindy worked with the attorneys, kept the CJDV activists engaged, launched a national solidarity campaign, spoke across the country and raised thousands of dollars to cover legal expenses.
“There are still times when in the midst of a joyous event or an important meeting, I find myself silently thinking that my brother Silme should be there. I want to see him strutting into the room, bringing his life of the party with him….” wrote Cindy in A Time To Rise: Collective Memoirs of the Union of Democratic Filipinos (KDP), the book she co-edited with two other KDP activists (University of Washington Press, 2017).
Yet, working for justice for her brother and Gene Viernes, as long as it took, did not define Cindy. In fact, she often was at the center of organizing Seattle International Women’s Day events. Cindy also had a day job, as program director for the Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP) when Larry Gossett was executive director. She helped coordinate his first run for the King County Council and was his chief of staff until they both retired in December. And, she was married to former Black Panther Party activist Garry Owens and they raised two sons, Malik and Jamil. She also served on numerous boards and committees focused on women, workers’ rights, racial and environmental justice.
From her leadership with the CJDV, Cindy was sought out as a speaker on national and international events. The 1995 World Conference for Women in Beijing, China was particularly pivotal for Cindy. There, she met and became friends with the Cuban delegation and her interest led to working with Jan Cate, wife of then president of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, Rev. Bill Cate. Jan was an active member of WILPF, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. As a result, Cindy created the U.S. Women & Cuba Collaboration and has since 1999, led annual educational trips.
While only retired for two months, Cindy can be found continuing to speak out and organize for justice. Most recently, she submitted the following OPINION to the Emerald about red-baiting in the current presidential election.
Featured image: Cindy Domingo at the Wall of Martyrs, where her brother, Silme and Gene Viernes were the first victims of the Marcos dictatorship outside of the Philippines.