Students marched from Hahn Student Services to Quarry Plaza, carrying posters that read “Stop the U.S. War Machine,” “Stop torture at SFO” and “Justice for Jerome.” When they reached Quarry Plaza, the protesters gathered in a large circle and shouted to the drum beat, “When human rights are under attack, what do we do?” “Stand up! Fight back!”
The demonstration, organized by Anakbayan Santa Cruz (ABSC), drew about 50 students to Quarry Plaza at noon on May 3. The march and rally were in conjunction with the Justice for Jerome campaign, an international movement of protest actions organized by the national Anakbayan organization that began after the detainment and alleged torture of Jerome Aba. Aba, a Filipino peace advocate and Moro (Filipino Muslim), was detained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
At the time of his detainment, Aba was participating in the “Stop the Killing: Peace and Justice in the Philippines” speaking tour, hosted by The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines. He arrived at SFO from the Philippines with a valid visa on April 17 and was detained for 28 hours by CBP officials before being sent back to the Philippines. CBP said his detention was based on a “technical glitch,” however, according to KQED earlier reports, Aba’s detainment was based on a “connection to individuals within terrorist networks.”
According to a speech Aba gave at a press conference upon returning to the Philippines, while in custody he was made to strip naked in front of an industrial fan, threatened by officers and left alone with weapons.
“Throughout this entire process they were constantly trying to assert the fact that he was a communist, a terrorist and a threat to the U.S. and the Philippines,” said second-year and ABSC member Mikayla Aruta Konefał. “When in actuality, Jerome Aba is a human rights activist leader in one of the most impoverished areas of the Philippines.”
Besides the political activism that arose from the incident, Jerome Aba has not taken or publicized any legal action.
ABSC is a National Democratic Pilipinx youth and students grassroots organization affiliated with the Bayan political party in the Philippines. The student organization, currently in the process of being recognized by the national Anakbayan organization, is a Santa Cruz-wide club for Pilipinx youth to engage in political activism.
Konefał said Anakbayan’s protest sparked conversation about the Philippines’ current authoritarian president Rodrigo Duterte’s threat of reinstituting martial law. Though no statements about the Philippines have been issued recently by the U.S. government, it has a long history of militaristically and economically backing authoritarian politics in the Philippines dating back to U.S. colonization.
As part of an overarching theme, students spoke out about global human rights violations and the U.S.’ continued involvement in these injustices.
“How come when something atrocious happens in the world it’s always got to have the U.S. behind it?” third-year Angela Tulio shouted into the bullhorn.
The march sought to bring attention to political injustices that aren’t often discussed in mainstream activism spaces. Political and historical education about the Philippines is one of ABSC’s main goals. Many students, Konefał said, are unaware of the Philippines’ history of U.S.-backed authoritarianism.
Future events hosted by ABSC will aim to provide spaces for students to engage with history and organize political responses to injustice. The upcoming May 10 screening of “The Fall of the I-Hotel” and accompanying panel of professors will tackle issues of gentrification and housing insecurity in the Pilipinx community.
“Political education is really crucial […],” Konefał said. “The teaching of history is a form of empowerment […] We’re trying to raise attention to a lot of issues that do not break through mainstream media, and we’re trying to give that a voice.”