Romulo Day-oan Peralta played a critical role in an important arena in the fight against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos: the international front. Romy, as he was fondly called, devoted his life to letting the world know about the abuses of the regime, and rallying support for the fight to restore democracy in the Philippines.
Romy was the only child of first-generation Protestant lay missionaries who became pillars of a fledgling United Church of Christ community in Nuevo Iloco, Mawab, Davao. There, Romy spent part of his childhood amongst farmers and peasants, and was exposed to their struggles from an early age.
When he was a young adult, he moved to Manila to study medicine at the Far Eastern University. He also became active in the Christian Youth Fellowship and Student Christian Movement. Having witnessed the hardships of the poor first-hand, he was caught up in the spirit of student activism in the late 60s and early 70s. He decided to dedicate his life to fight injustice.
History of political involvement
He became a committed student activist during the First Quarter Storm of 1970, the history youth rebellion against the Marcos administration. He later joined the national democratic movement. He gave up his studies the same year and married Carmencita Karagdag, a fellow activist. While working with a government think-tank for the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, he led a group of nationalist professionals and government workers in the movement against oppression.
He and his wife immediately became targets of the Marcos regime after the declaration of Martial Law in 1972. Two years later, their home in Quezon City was raided. One of his wife’s sisters was tortured so brutally that she suffered a mental breakdown. Romy and Carmencita were forced to leave their two small children with relatives to go into hiding. They spent a year living as fugitives.
In 1975, with the help of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, who met with Marcos and negotiated the release of numerous political prisoners, Romy and Carmencita were allowed to go into exile in Singapore. Romy then immersed himself in international solidarity work, developing contacts with human rights activists from different countries in Asia, including Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. With these links, he hoped to organize an international platform for the campaign to end martial law.
But Singapore was then ruled by the strongman Lee Kuan Yew, a known Marcos ally. She and Romy were forced to leave for Hong Kong. The couple then established the Resource Center for Philippine Concerns (RCPC). As executive director, Romy made contacts and established several solidarity groups within the international community, including Friends of the Filipino People in Hong Kong and Philippine Action Support Group in Australia. He initiated solidarity links with progressive groups in New Zealand, Japan, North America, and Europe.
Romy was also the founder and first editor of the Solidaridad Newsletter, the first internationally-circulated publication on the Philippine human rights movement. He was also the first executive secretary for development and human rights at the Hong Kong-based Asia Alliance of YMCA, guiding its traditionally conservative platform to a more progressive agenda. His work for human rights could still be felt today—the Mission to Filipino Migrant Workers, which he helped conceptualize, still serves the Filipino migrant community in Hong Kong.
However, in 1981, under pressure from the Marcos regime, Hong Kong authorities deported Romy and his wife. The Peraltas sought refuge in Japan under the sponsorship of the Catholic Archdiocese of Tokyo and the National Christian Council in Japan.
Their work continued in Japan. They would set up the Japanese Coalition of Philippine Concerns, which had members from different religious sects and walks of life. At its peak, the organization could mobilize around 1,000 for anti-Marcos rallies.
That same year, with the help of RCPC, Romy initiated the International Conference on Human Rights in the Philippines in Stony Point, New York, in which the role of the US in the increasingly isolated Marcos dictatorship was discussed.
In the mid-80s, as the Philippine sugar industry was collapsing, resulting in mass starvation and impoverishment, Romy initiated, with the help of his Japanese connections, the Japanese Committee for Negros Campaign (JCNC). The campaign raised $1 million for relief programs and support for peasant organizations in Negros. He also aided Filipino women who were victimized by the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia, by setting up the Woman’s Migrant Program in Japan.
Similarly, his work with the Japanese Socialist Party was instrumental in the establishment of the Kunkandia or Japanese Parliament Association for Philippine Concerns around 1985-1986. The Kunkandia was active in exposing fraud in the 1986 elections, as well as the numerous human rights abuses that occurred during the Marcos regime.
An Imprint on the World
Peralta’s struggles as an activist did not end after Marcos was overthrown. In 1986, shortly after Corazon Aquino became president, his family’s home in Quezon was raided and searched, and his family was interrogated and threatened with arrest. This incident was witnessed by Romy’s young children and it prompted him to return to Japan.
Romy continued his life work in Japan. He settled in Kyoto. With the help of the Takarabune Labor Union and other Japanese left-wing parties, he established the Asian Center for Cultural Exchange (ACCE). He served as its executive director after his permanent return to the Philippines in 1990. ACCE later became ACCESS, a joint Philippine-Japan grassroots organizing project. Romy also later set up the Solidarity Foundation and served as the organization’s president.
Romy also got involved in international peace and disarmament issues. He was co-coordinator of the Peace, Disarmament, and Symbiosis in Asia Pacific (PDSAP), a high-profile network for progressive parliamentarians, academics, NGOs, and people’s organizations all over Asia. In 1994, he helped organize the PDSAP conference at Sulo Hotel in Quezon City, attended by prominent international organizations and figures such as the former Korean president Kim Dae Jung and Senator Yatabe of Japan. In 1996, Romy gave the keynote address in the third PDSAP conference in Beijing.
Circumstance of death
Romy also served as Person in Mission on Globalization of the General Board Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church (GBM-UMC). In 2001, he organized the ground-breaking National Consultation on Globalization, which was sponsored by the NCCP and GBGM-UMC.
He was in poor health during the conference. He died from pneumonia several months later in September 2001.
Romy’s life continues to inspire people. A co-worker, Christine Virtucci says: “Romy, as a Christian, saw the connection between the good news of the Gospels and one’s engagement in social activism. He was a model to others and he influenced me to continue my commitment to social justice in the Philippines…”
Born: July 30, 1941 in Manila
Died: September 2, 2001 in Quezon City
Parents: Isabelo Peralta and Guillerma Day-oan
Spouse: Carmencita Karagdag
Children: Four (Daphne, Athena, Proserpine and Sulayman)
Elementary Nuevo Iloco Elementary School, Mawab, Davao
High School Silliman University in Dumaguete City
College Far Eastern University, Manila
3rd year of Medicine, 1970.
Bantayog Profile Sheet and nomination write-up submitted by Carmencita Karagdag, wife, August 17, 2016.
Interview with Carmencita Karagdag, widow, and Bernie Aquino, friend, Bantayog, Quezon City, August 19, 2016.
Romy, life and work, by Carmencita Karagdag, September 12, 2016
Memories of Romy Peralta in Honk Kong, by Christine Virtucci, September 10, 2016
On Romulo Peralta, by Josue Loyola, former secretary of the Asia-wide Campaign Against US-Japan Military Alliance, and currently professor of Philosophy and Biblical Studies, undated
Romy Peralta as I knew him, by Carlos Ocampo, former Secretary for Human Rights and International Affairs, Christian Conference of Asia, September 7, 2016
Account of Romy Peralta’s Involvement in the anti-Marcos Dictatorship Struggle in Hong Kong, by Cynthia Abdon, General Manager, Mission to Filipino Migrant Workers Limited, and Jun Tellez, Program Coordinator for Labor and Employment Assistance, Mission to Filipino Migrant Workers, HK, undated
Romy Peralta: Aktibista at Bayani ng Pandaigdigang Kapatiran laban sa Imperyalismo Piyudalismo at Diktadurang Marcos by Paul Galang, undated.