The young Julieta Cupino lived across the river from a working class community in Pasig City. This early exposure to poverty, plus her elder brother Edgar’s activism, made Julieta aware of social realities in her country.
When she was 17, she started organizing the Samahan ng Kababaihan sa Rizal, recruiting mostly women laborers. Her choice of a career in the nursing profession also showed this caring spirit.
Despite the imposition of martial law in 1972, Juliet continued to organize women workers in Solid Mills and the Philippine American Embroidery, then employing some ten thousand workers, and one of the biggest bra-and-underwear factories in the country.
Evading very restrictive martial law decrees, Juliet helped women workers organize against low wages, overwork, and the lack of benefits, including maternity leave and day care support. The big firms enjoyed the regime’s support and were resorting to questionable practices, such as preferring single women and calling new hires as trainees to force them to accept trainee wages, and were imposing repressive rules, such as putting unreasonable limits on water breaks and toilet breaks.
Juliet enlightened the women workers about their rights, taught them negotiating techniques and fund-raising methods, and also get them into contact with nuns and priests who wanted to assist them in their labor struggle.
During the 1978 campaign for Batasan representatives, Juliet helped organize worker electoral committees to support the opposition party, LABAN, under which then incarcerated Senator Benigno Aquino Jr was running as candidate. The Samahan ng Kababaihan ng Rizal supported the LABAN candidates vigorously. Since many women workes were also first-time voters, Juliet also helped organized voters’ education seminars. Juliet joined the massive noise barrage when LABAN and Ninoy were cheated of victory, calling on her Pasig neighbors to join also.
Juliet’s husband Oscar, who had also been involved in trade union organizing, was arrested in 1979. Juliet joined KAPATID, an organization families of political prisoners, and helped in their information campaigns.
When Oscar was released from prison, the couple made the painful decision to move out of Metro Manila and continue their union work in Mindanao. They had to leave their two children behind. In Mindanao, Juliet learned the local language, and taught herself to walk barefoot and learn rural skills like pounding palay.
Juliet’s task was to head an underground district organization of anti-dictatorship forces in Misamis Oriental. By 1982, the military had intensified its counter-insurgency campaign in the province. It built up fanatic groups and recruited their members as paramilitary force. Notable among them was the Tadtad cult.
Juliet was head of a paramedic group when Tadtads attacked in the early dawn of 27 October 1983. When they came, Juliet and an aide exchanged fire to cover the retreat of the rest. All the members of her team escaped, but her companion was killed and Juliet was captured alive. For four hours, she was tortured, raped, beaten with wood all over her body, until she died.
It was the height of military rule in Mindanao and fear of government reprisal was intense. The mayor did not want Juliet buried in the cemetery. But human rights advocates insisted. The Catholic bishop came to lead the rites, holding the burial ceremonies “sa gilid ng sementeryo,” outside the cemetery walls.
* Parents : Isaias Cupino and Elena Ranollo
* Spouse : Oscar Armea
* Children : 2 (Carlos and Ma. Lorena)