Toronto—Commemorating Andres Bonifacio Day, fifteen delegates join hands together to formally launch the progressive Filipino youth and student organization Anakbayan-Toronto (AB-T) on December 1st at Ryerson University.
Organized to coincide with November 30, a date historically significant to Filipino peoples. It is the birth of the working class revolutionary Andres Bonifacio, whose leadership founded the Katipunan and laid the foundation for the Philippines’ first unified armed resistance against foreign oppression.
One hundred and forty-nine years after the renowned hero’s birth, AB-T convened as the newest overseas chapter of Anakbayan, which is translated as “sons and daughters of the people.” The comprehensive national democratic, mass movement of the Filipino youth is the first branch in Canada.
However, since the 80s Filipino-Canadian youth, particularly in urban core centres, have been organizing themselves through cultural and nationalistic means. According to Marco Luciano, former member of the Montreal Coalition of Filipino Students (MCFS) and now Secretary General of Migrante-Canada, the ‘real upsurge’ of youth organizing was not carried on until the 90s. Programs allowing youth to bond and discuss culture and identity in the context of Filipino struggle against colonialism was pushed by concerned members of the community. In 1993 the Montreal Coalition of Filipino Students in Quebec was formed .
While in Toronto, early strands of educational discussion groups were also realized under the guidance of Philippine Solidarity Group. In 1996 issues between “baguhan” (new immigrants) and “datihan” (Canadian-born/raised) youths were shared in a play entitled “Dreams of a Revolution” in celebration of the centennial anniversary of the Bonifacio-led 1896 Philippine Revolution. This search for identity and fight against colonialism moved to modes of outreach in the community and exposure trips, finally leading to the formation of Migrante Ontario Youth in 2008, shared Mithi Esguerra, a former member of the group.
Canada has the second largest Filipino community overseas. For decades, poor job prospects and the nation’s undeclared policy to export labour led Philippine citizens to pursue employment abroad. According to the Philippine National Situation by Bagong Alyasang Makabayan (BAYAN) presented by founding member Ysh Cabana, the current Aquino administration perpetuates this oppressive system by placing more anti-people policies and being subservient to foreign interests.
Since the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is the financial and cultural capital of Canada, it is one of the top city choices of Filipino immigrants and migrants. The GTA is home to over 140,000 Filipinos. A presentation by founding members Tim Manalo and Alex Felipe revealed that most Filipino immigrants have non-permanent residence status and are coming in through the family reunification program. Impeded by their minority and recent immigrant status, many Filipino-Canadian youth face a number of cultural challenges and systemic barriers that hamper their economic mobilization and social integration.
Bearing the onus to address these problems, AB-T commits itself to ensure that youth stay engaged in raising social awareness and advocating for the betterment of the Filipino community in Canada and the Philippines. The newly elected officers in the founding assembly symbolize the utmost dedication of youth in leading the Filipino community towards true emancipation: Rhea Gamana as Chairperson, Jesson Reyes as the Secretary General, Ysh Cabana as Education Officer, Henessy Cruz as Finance Officer, and Tim Manalo as Solidarity Officer.
“I’m very honoured to be elected as Chairperson of Anakbayan Toronto, and I would like to thank our Kasamas for trusting me to be in this position. I will absolutely do my best to represent Anakbayan Toronto to our kababayans. I and the rest of the Kasamas will painstakingly educate and organize Filipino youth here in the Greater Toronto Area. I will continue to fight for genuine national democracy for the Philippines, and continue the unfinished struggle of Gat Andres Bonifacio.” Rhea Gamana, elected founding Chairperson of Anakbayan Toronto.
For now, Anakbayan-Toronto’s task is articulated in the founding general assembly’s theme “Ipagbunyi ang Kabataang Sumusulong tungo sa Malayang Bukas” (Celebrating the Youth Marching Towards Emancipation).
A video message by the Anakbayan Philippines National Chairperson Vencer Crisostomo for the 14th Anniversary of Anakbayan, he expressed the importance for youth to carry on the legacy of arousing, organizing and mobilizing. In the words of Kabataang Makabayan’s founding chairperson, Jose Maria Sison, “Only through militant struggle can the best in the youth emerge.”
Among the guest speakers was former Chairman of the National Union of Students in the Philippines, Ben Corpuz. Presenting on the student movement in the Philippines, he emphasized how the three basic problems of Filipinos back then remain the same today, even worsened.
Special guest Vernie Diano of the Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Centre (CWEARC) reflects how “The energy of the youth is direly needed to oppose the threats facing our communities.” Heartfelt solidarity messages were also delivered by allied groups including member representatives of the International League of Peoples Struggles-Canada (ILPS- Canada).
AB-T would like to thank allied organizations, BAYAN Canada, Filipino Migrant Workers’ Movement (FMWM) and Philippine Advocacy Through Arts and Culture (PATAC) for their presence at the event. To the Filipino community in Canada and other chapters for their continuous support. The success of the founding assembly formally declares our member’s dedication to arouse, organize, and mobilize for the advancement of the Filipino people’s struggle towards national liberation and genuine democracy in the Philippines.
Lumalakas! Lumalawak! Lumalaban! (Strengthening! Broadening! Continuously fighting!)