MARASIGAN, Violeta Atienza

As a young girl in Lucena, Violeta was called Bolet but in high school, she changed it to Bullet because she “wanted to be different.” Later in the US, she again changed her nickname to Bulletx, believing it was a lucky name. Bullet was witty, full of humor, spirited and bold. Raised a Protestant, she was a very spiritual person and truly believed in “loving your neighbor.”

Political awakening

Bullet got her degree in social work at the University of the Philippines, later moving to the US for graduate studies. In California, she found a job as social worker of the Multi-Service Center of the United Filipino Association. There she was exposed to protest activities of elderly Filipino-Americans, mostly veterans, who were resisting eviction from their home, the International Hotel.

Bullet once wrote a colleague of these veterans’ predicament: “Most were single and retired farmworkers or seamen. Many had been in the US for over 30 years, but still barely able to speak or write in English. They lived on retirement benefits, receiving less than the maximum social security grant of around $200 a month.”

Eventually, she met and married fellow Filipino Pedro Marasigan. The couple had four daughters in succession. The couple left California in 1971 and relocated to the Philippines, thinking the country was the better place to rear their children.

In 1972, Bullet started work in the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) as director of its family ministries.  She was quite fresh in this job when Ferdinand Marcos launched his dictatorship. Thousands of activists and Marcos political opponents were arrested and detained without warrant or charges. Many suffered torture during interrogation, as well as prolonged solitary confinement.

In response to this development, the NCCP created an Ecumenical Ministry for Political Detainees and placed Bullet at its helm. The ministry was given the main task of offering material and moral support to families of political prisoners. Mothers of political prisoners, including Mrs. Ada dela Torre, were often seen trooping to Bullet’s office to carry messages of request or to bring prison artwork to be sold to supporters or sympathizers.

Bullet’s daughter Marnelle remembers that her mother sometimes took her to visit and bring food to political prisoners. In one of these visits, she remembers singing songs with the prisoners, and prisoner Edicio dela Torre playing the guitar in accompaniment.

Bullet also extended help to newly-released political prisoners through this NCCP program. Carlos Ocampo, then executive director of another NCCP program, says Bullet once invited him to a gathering of former political prisoners.  Bullet mobilized NCCP’s connection to the World Council of Churches to create a network abroad that supported the NCCP family and political prisoners ministries, and even overall, the Filipino resistance against dictatorship.

Eventually, Bullet too became a target of the dictatorship. In February 1982, Bullet was one of 17 arrested in a series of military raids in Metro Manila. Bullet’s eldest Marielle was also arrested but released on the same day. All those arrested were without warrant, subsequently taken for imprisonment at a Camp Crame detention center.

The night before, the military ransacked the Marasigan house, scared Bullet’s children, and took away documents as well as personal items such as family photos and treasured mementos, beloved books, even canned goods and an electric fan.

Bullet spent a year as political prisoner, visited by her husband, four daughters, and by then a three-year-old son.

Fellow political prisoner Doris Nuval Baffrey remembers how Bullet’s arrival “broke the stillness of the stockades, which suddenly came to life with her presence.” Bullet inspired other female prisoners, mostly labor union members rounded up and tagged as subversives by the Marcos administration.

Ms. Baffrey recalls how Bullet quickly assumed a leadership role, creating groups to handle household chores in prison. She also initiated political discussion groups. She urged the female detainees to stay strong “for Inang Bayan.” Bullet led a 22-day hunger strike to push for the release of detainees. On the final day of the fast, Ms. Baffrey said that Bullet still had not eaten a single morsel of solid food. She had grown so frail she had to be carried to and from the bathroom.

Bullet’s tough character is remembered by daughter Marnelle who said that during their frequent sad goodbyes, when her children would cry for wanting to bring their mother home with them, Bullet would whisper her daughter a question: “Ano ang mommy mo?” She wanted only a single word for an answer, Marnelle said, which was “matatag.”

After her release from prison, Bullet became even more politically involved. She started to support calls for the dictatorship to release all political prisoners. She also expanded the areas of her activity. She helped found two organizations that remain to this day: Selda, an association of released political prisoners, and Gabriela, a feminist advocacy organization. She helped found other groups such as AWIT (Association of Women in Theology) and KAIBA women’s party (with Maita Gomez, Bantayog hero, 2017).

Resuming her work at the NCCP’s family ministry, Bullet went on to assist prostituted women and women working in bars at Olongapo City in Zambales, then the host of a huge American military naval base. With the Menonnites and the Gabriela Commission on Violence Against Women, Bullet opened a drop-in center for women working in bars in Olongapo. The center later came to be called Buklod.  She started to support campaigns against women-trafficking. (Also in 1987 she helped organize the Batis Center for Women in Quezon City.) She became active in the movement to oppose the construction of a nuclear power plant in Bataan province.

A colleague at NCCP, Dr. Linda Senturias, (member, Human Rights Victims Claims Board, 2017-2019), described Bullet as a Protestant lay leader who challenged church leaders to face up to pressing issues such as violations against women, women-trafficking, and the plight of sex workers in the Philippines. Dr. Senturias described Bullet as one who believed in transforming church and society into one that responded to the needs of the oppressed and the poor.

Bullet not only used her position at NCCP to offer humanitarian service. She and husband Pedro opened their home as meeting place for groups fighting the dictatorship or as refuge to persons they knew were in trouble for being involved in fighting that dictatorship. Bullet’s daughter Marnelle said countless titas and titos stayed in their home, coming from various parts of the country, people Marnelle would find out later were important persons in the anti-dictatorship movement. Marnelle only realized later as an adult the great risks her parents took to resist Marcos’s illegal and abusive rule.

In her testimony submitted to Bantayog for her mother, Marnelle describes Bullet’s boundless faith. Bullet would bring her and her siblings, then mostly teenagers, to protest rallies and marches in the Philippines, sometimes getting teargassed or with bullets flying over their heads. Bullet took her to long “Lakbayan” marches, sleeping in fields with soldiers waving their guns. She remembers how her mother told her not to be scared because “people were protecting us.”

“She taught us to live our lives to be in service of the greatest good of humanity, even if sometimes we have to make sacrifices,” Marnelle writes. “She lived her purpose, stood up for others and loved immensely.”  She loved “beyond family and community, beyond distant shores, with a full heart and from the depths of her soul and feisty spirit.”

As to be expected, Bullet joined and was in the thick of the people power rallies at EDSA in the February 1986 revolt that marked the end of the Marcos dictatorship. Bullet and her daughters also found time to actually get into one of the detention camps of Camp Crame to take to safety baby girl Inday June Taguiwalo, born to political prisoner Judy Taguiwalo, and Bullet’s goddaughter. Bullet was aware that scores of political prisoners remained at Camp Crame at that time. Fighting could erupt between the soldiers taking opposing sides or bombs could be dropped into the camp, while political prisoners – and some of their children — waited like sitting ducks locked in pens. And the Marasigan household as expected had room for still another person, in this case, a baby in trouble.

After the fall of the Marcoses from power, the Marasigan family moved back to Daly City in California. Bullet found work as health educator/counselor/social worker at the Westbay Pilipino Multi-services as well as with the Asian American Recovery Services. She became active in the Filipino migrant community in the Bay Area. She also worked as social worker at the Veterans Equity Center.

Again as they did in the Philippines, the couple opened the family house along Templeton Drive in Daly City to their activities. The Marasigan house was a beehive of action, like a “grand central,” according to friend Luz de Leon. As usual going far beyond her work as social worker, Bullet opened her home as refuge to newly-arrived immigrants from the Philippines. She also started a healing advocacy.

Bullet and friend Luz de Leon helped run the Philippine Resource Center, starting a project they called Pistahan (Filipino American Arts Exposition) in 1996.  Pistahan continues until today as a Filipino community festival in San Francisco city and county. The two friends also helped create theater groups (Teatro ng Tanan, Kilos Sining and Pintig).

Bullet led campaigns to reopen a Filipino education center for immigrant children. She advocated for equal military benefits for Filipino-American veterans of World War II. She protested TV sitcom slurs about Filipino brides being bought.

Bullet died in a freak accident in 2000. She had just parked her car along San Francisco Hill.

She had stepped out of it when it started to roll downhill, hitting and killing her.

Her sudden death stunned the community she served. She was given several posthumous honors in California: a plaque from the Quezonians of Northern California, a certificate from the Board of Supervisors in the City and County of San Francisco, another certificate from the Women Making History Award, and proclamations of a Bulletx Marasigan Day in San Francisco City (April 26) and in Daly City (May 27).

 

More than 1,000 people attended a series of memorial services in her honor. At one service, the Rev. Cecil Williams of Glibe Memorial Church called Bullet “a great warrior.”

The last serve was held at the San Francisco City Hall, attended by many of the city’s well-known representatives, and the city mayor giving a eulogy. Bullet is so far the only Filipino community leader given a tribute at the San Francisco City Hall.

NCCP also awarded Bullet a Gawad Kalinga at Pagpupugay.

Writer-publisher Luz de Leon, described Bullet as compassionate as well as militant. Bullet was a nationalist even in the US, but also multicultural. Ms. de Leon says Bullet’s death was a “loss in the quality of community activism she exemplified.”

In 2003, students from her alma mater, the San Francisco State University, created a community mural with images of “revolutionary heroines.” The mural included among others Gabriela Silang, Lorena Barros, and Violeta Marasigan.