by Ronnie Estoque
The Seattle Globalist was a daily online publication that covered the connections between local and global issues in Seattle. The Emerald is keeping alive its legacy of highlighting our city’s diverse voices by regularly publishing and re-publishing stories aligned with the Globalist’s mission.
Filipino American activist and community member Cindy Domingo was a vital leader in the 1970s movement against the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. She led international solidarity campaigns on the University of Washington campus and became an active organizer of the Union of Democratic Filipinos (Katipunan ng mga Demokratikong Pilipino KDP) in both Seattle and Oakland.
Her brother Silme Domingo and his friend Gene Viernes became active politically after being alongside and observing the horrendous working conditions of “manongs,” older Filipino men, working up in the Alaska canneries. Both Silme and Viernes sought to reform the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 37 and founded the Seattle chapter of the KDP to continue their international solidarity campaign work.
Forty-one years ago today, on June 1, 1981, both Silme and Viernes were assassinated at the ILWU Local 37’s headquarters in Seattle, which was ultimately linked to union President Tony Baruso and two hitmen of the Tulisan gang. Cindy Domingo had led the Committee for Justice for Domingo/Viernes alongside Elaine Ikomo Ko and successfully pressed a wrongful death lawsuit in 1989 against Baruso and others, including then-Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. The case remains the only trial won on U.S. soil against a foreign dictator. The civil lawsuit led to a criminal trial in 1991 where Baruso was convicted of aggravated murder. He died at Stafford Creek prison in Aberdeen in 2008.
Since her brother’s death, Domingo has dedicated her life to continuing her international solidarity and social justice work as an active member of Akbayan North America and as the co-chair of the U.S. Women & Cuba Collaboration.
Ferdinand “BongBong” Marcos Jr. will become the new president, with Sara Duterte becoming the new vice president, of the Philippines on June 30 — 36 years after his father was driven from office by the People Power Revolution led by Corazon Aquino, the widow of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., a Marcos opposition leader who was assassinated after returning to the Philippines in 1983 after a self-imposed exile.
South Seattle Emerald: What are your thoughts on the recent election results in the Philippines?
Cindy Domingo: The elections are a great setback for democracy in the Philippines. Democracy was already undermined by the authoritarian government of Rodrigo Duterte and so there was a lot at stake in this election for the Filipino people. The [Vice President Leni] Robredo and [Sen. Francis] Pangilinan campaign represented the pro-democracy pole in the Philippines and while they created a huge movement called the Kakampink pro-democracy movement, it was not strong enough to overcome the huge support that was garnered by Marcos and Duterte. There were a number of factors that contributed to Marcos’ and Duterte’s support: First, there is the corrupt patronage system that has become part of elections in the Philippines, and the Marcoses had all their ill-gotten wealth to buy votes, buy political support in this election. Second, the Marcoses have been using their money and using social media to revise history over the years to make people believe that the Marcos dictatorship was really the golden age and not the “lies” that people say — a history of torture and killings and corruption and underdevelopment of the Philippines because the Marcoses stole billions of dollars from the Filipino people. Lastly, the enjoining of the Marcos and Duterte factions to run for president and vice president meant they did not have to split the votes but became a very powerful block to anyone who challenged these two family dynasties.
SSE: What concerns do you have regarding a Marcos-Duterte leadership in the Philippines?
C.D.: Both fathers of the president and vice president have shown they have no respect for the Philippine Constitution, democracy, and human rights. And while you could say they are not their fathers, both have shown they are non-repentant for what their fathers have done while in office even though they are fully aware of the human rights violations and undermining of democracy that took place. BBM [BongBong Marcos] and Sara Duterte have every intention of rewriting history to alter the true histories of their fathers’ presidential terms. Already BBM has appointed Sara as head of the Department of Education, and [current President] Rodrigo Duterte is stacking the Court of Appeals with pro-Marcos people to pave the way to overturn the criminal convictions of the Marcos family. Marcos has already said he will continue the war on drugs that Duterte started which resulted in over 30,000 extrajudicial killings. It is no doubt that Marcos will depend heavily on the military to quash any undermining of his government, especially if the Kakampink movement continues to grow and cohere into a real pro-democracy movement.
SSE: Who motivates and inspires you to strive towards a better future?
C.D.: In general I am a very optimistic person and I get excited still in looking at the potential of organizing around issues or different arenas of work. If I think who motivates me now, it is many of the women that have stepped forward in the Philippines to stand up for democracy and courageously stand up against authoritarianism. I think about how courageous and committed to the Filipino people Leni Robredo is to have agreed to run for president with only seven months to go before the election. I think about the slander and fake news that she and her children were subjected to, but they always took the higher ground. I think about Sen. Risa Hontiveros, being the only opposition senator in all of Congress and all the great legislation she passed in her last term despite the difficult conditions she faced. I also think the work I do around Cuba inspires me because going there and seeing that if the U.S. could just take its foot off of Cuba’s neck, that country, led by women, could blossom so much because even in the midst of a huge economic crisis brought on by the 61-year-old blockade, Cuba still moves forward and women continue to play an ever-expanding role in their society.
SSE: When did you last visit the Philippines and what was your experience?
C.D.: I last went to the Philippines in January/February of 2020 right before everything was shut down by the pandemic. It was mainly a personal visit with 15 other members of my family and it was wonderful. We had a big family reunion, and it was the last trip of my mom’s because she died a year later. That trip meant a lot because my mother had ingrained in all of us a deep love of the Philippines and family. Even though my mom is gone, I know that our family will continue to go and continue our ties with our family back home. At the same time, I was fearful when I traveled around the Philippines because of the extrajudicial killings [EJK]. I was afraid for my sons’ safety as well as my own since we traveled up north to Ilocos. Given the thousands of EJKs, no one is safe since you can be killed for nothing.
SSE: How does Silme’s legacy continue to live on today?
C.D.: Silme’s legacy continues in all the work that we do in LELO [Legacy of Equality Leadership and Organizing], an organization he cofounded 49 years ago. His legacy continues in the work we do around the Philippines, especially in the labor solidarity we are building between labor unions and labor centers in the Philippines, and his legacy continues in the work that we as a family do — his daughter is a union organizer as well as his niece. His legacy is continued every time we hold our annual LELO awards dinner because we honor Silme and Gene and another LELO cofounder, Milton Jefferson. We promised after Silme and Gene were murdered that we would never forget them and we would ensure that their names and history would not die with them and we have kept that promise.
SSE: How would you describe international solidarity, and why is it important?
C.D.: International solidarity is a reflection that we as working people have a common agenda, common needs, and a common struggle. It means that we all have a right to have our human needs met no matter your country of origin, no matter what your gender is, no matter what the color of your skin is — we all deserve the same rights and no borders, gender, or color of skin should divide us.
SSE: Why is it important for Filipino Americans to maintain a connection back to the Philippines?
C.D.: The Philippines is a part of our history, our culture, and our family even if one is born in the U.S. You cannot falsely separate those who are immigrants from those that are born in the Philippines because we are intimately tied together. The U.S. has been a major factor in the development/underdevelopment of the Philippines, and we have a responsibility to ensure that our U.S. government has a policy towards the Philippines as well as any other country — a policy that respects the sovereignty of other countries and their peoples and respects their right to self-determination.
Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.
📸 Featured Image: Cindy Domingo at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani (Wall of Martyrs), 2011, Quezon City, Philippines, in front of her brother Silme Domingo’s name. He and Gene Viernes were the first Americans to be recognized on the Wall honoring the political victims of the Marcos Regime. (Photo: Sharon Maeda)
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