urban poor in the Philippines

Nanay Mameng and her long life devoted to the struggle of the urban poor

Jodesz Gavilan
Nanay Mameng and her long life devoted to the struggle of the urban poor

FOR THE POOR. Carmen 'Nanay Mameng' Deunida joins a protest rally.

Screenshot from Kadamay video

Carmen 'Nanay Mamen' Deunida dies at 93 but leaves behind a lasting legacy that continues to inspire a movement for urban poor's rights

Urban poor leader and long-time activist Carmen “Nanay Mameng” Deunida passed away on Monday, July 19, at the age of 93.

Born in 1928, Nanay Mameng devoted her life to the struggle of country’s marginalized. Urban poor rights group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) described her as “ina ng pakikibaka ng maralitang lungsod (Mother of urban poor activism).”

Her death was confirmed by Kadamay, the group she led as national chairperson from 1998 to 2008 and later as chairperson emeritus.

Buong tapang, giting at tatag niyang hinarap ang lahat ng hamon sa lipunan,” Kadamay said. “Sa simple at payak na lenggwahe, at lumalagablab na boses, nasapul niya ang paglalarawan sa krisis at pakikibaka ng maralitang lungsod.”

(She courageously faced all challenges in society. With her simple language but fiery voice, she was able to describe the crisis and the struggle of the urban poor.)

Her activism started in 1978 in Leveriza, Manila, at the height of the Marcos dictatorship. She first joined Kabataan para sa Demokrasya at Nasyunalism (Kadena), where she became the group’s oldest member at 50 years old.

Nanay Mameng later became chairperson of women’s group Samahan ng Maralitang Kababaihang Nagkakaisa (SAMAKANA) for 11 years.

Sa SAMAKANA, binigyang pansin ang mga hinaharap ng kababaihang maralita na hindi hiwalay sa isyu ng mamamayan, katulad ng pagtaas ng presyo, mga anti-mamamayang patakaran ng gobyerno, at karahasan ng estado pati na rin ang pang-aabuso sa loob ng tahanan,” GABRIELA said in a statement.

(When she was with SAMAKANA, she raised the issues faced by impoverished women that are not separate from the struggle of the masses, such as rising prices, anti-people policies of the government, and violence of the state, and even abuse inside households.)

Booming voice

Over the years, Nanay Mameng never faltered in the face of intimidation and harassment from the powerful people they went up against.

Her fight transcended administrations. She continued to march on the streets, voicing out criticism against the government and its misplaced priorities and lack of programs for the poor.

Nanay Mameng was also a significant figure during “EDSA Dos” protest rallies, amid corruption charges against then-president Joseph Estrada.

Kapag nagsalita siya sa Makati sa mga broad rally sa Ayala, kahit ang mga professionals at mga [chief executive officers] ay napapahinto at nakikinig at pumapalakpak,” Renato Reyes, secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, wrote on Facebook.

Bihira siguro silang makakita ng tagapagsalita na malalim ang hugot na galit sa pang-aapi at pagsasamantala, na nag-aapoy ang bawat salitang binibitiwan,” he added.

(Whenever she talked during broad rallies in Ayala, Makati, even professionals and CEOs stopped to listen and to clap their hands afterwards. It was rare for them to see someone talk of exploitation with such fiery words.)

Carry on with her fight

Nanay Mameng didn’t stop with her activism despite her old age. She often reminded her colleagues that the work continues regardless of who is in power, as long as the rights of the people are trampled.

Kasama niyo ako sa mga pagkilos, nandiyan pa ako,” Nanay Mameng said in 2012. “Hanggang ako ay may dugo na nananalaytay sa aking ugat, hindi ako titigil ng paglaban.” 

Nanay Mameng was the subject of a 2012 documentary, which also won a Gawad Urian for Best Documentary. A theater production in 2015 was also staged based on her life and work as an activist.

Her death leaves behind a huge gap in the movement. Still, her legacy continues to be an inspiration for many activists, especially at a time when activism is under attack under President Rodrigo Duterte.

Nag-iiwan si Nanay Mameng sa atin ng hamon at paalala: ubos-kaya at ubos lakas tayong kumilos, magtiwala sa lakas ng masa, at kamtin ang tagumpay na hindi na niya masisilayan,” Kadamay said.

(Nanay Mameng leaves behind a challenge and reminder: Let us continue the fight, trust the masses, and win the fight for people’s right that she wasn’t able to see.) – Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.