Leading Through Change

Anakbayan Toronto

Leading Through Change


Leading Through Change


About Rosetta

Rosetta Lucente is the Secretary General of Anakbayan Toronto. Anakbayan Toronto is an organization of Filipino youth that seeks to educate, organize, and mobilize in order to address issues that affect Filipino peoples in Canada and connect them to issues in the Philippines. Anakbayan Toronto is an overseas chapter of Anakbayan, which is based in the Philippines and is directly linked to the people’s movement toward freedom, peace, and democracy in the Philippines. The recently passed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 in the Philippines has expanded the definition of ‘terrorist’ in order to help the Philippines government target individuals and organizations, like Anakbayan, that speak or act out against the current administration in power.

Tkaronto or Toronto, is on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, the Wendat, the Mississauga of the Credit First Nations, and any other nations recorded and unrecorded. It is still home to many Indigenous peoples from across Turtle Island.

How did you get started as a community organizer? What motivated you to enter into community organizing?

I migrated to Canada a year ago on September 1st, 2019, so I’m pretty new to Canada. When I arrived, I didn’t really know anyone, so I was looking for a community that was familiar to me. I wanted to meet other Filipinos, so I turned to Anakbayan Toronto. It wasn’t just a community of Filipinos, but it was also young people who cared about political issues, which was really refreshing for me.

Before joining an organization, activism was nebulous to me. My activism was limited to spontaneous individual actions like going to a rally – which is important – but when I joined the organization, I saw that behind the rally, there are thousands of hours of meetings that make it possible. Being an activist essentially means being a community organizer and building strong organizations, structures, and relationships to fight for a better world. Being an activist isn’t something that I do to be known as an exceptional individual.

“Being an activist is knowing the community well, being loved by the community, and knowing the issues and being able to advocate for them.”

Tell us more about the projects that you’re currently working on with Anakbayan Toronto.

During COVID-19, we’ve actually had a surge of new members. Filipino youth don’t usually get to learn the true history of the Philippines, from the perspective of the oppressed: especially the history of U.S. colonization, the continued domination of the U.S. over the Philippines, and how the Filipino people are in resistance. We don’t hear about Canadian mining corporations in particular, who continue to plunder Indigenous lands in the Philippines. Education sessions are crucial for us to understand the conditions of the Philippines under imperialist domination, and our role as youth in fighting for a better world.

One of our current campaigns is Activism is not a Crime. Currently in the Philippines, activists are tagged as “terrorists” because they threaten the rule of an authoritarian state. These activists are from all sectors, including workers, peasants, youth, church peoples, Indigenous land defenders, and many other sectors. As activists abroad we want to support our kasamas or comrades in the Philippines.

Another current campaign is Defend Cordillera. The Cordillera is home to many indigenous peoples in the northern Philippines. The Igorot land defenders have been targeted by the Philippine government because state-sponsored mining corporations plunder Cordillera land. This is important to Canadians because these are Canada-based corporations developing on foreign ancestral lands. Corporations such as Oceana-Gold, Solofotara Mining Corp, and Rockwell Resources Corp are investing and operating in the Philippines. This practice of foreign corporations operating on Philippine soil is a common practice welcomed by the Philippine state as it benefits their neoliberal and political agendas. The Defend Cordillera campaign aims to build connections between Indigenous peoples of the world who are impacted by neoliberal policies and to link the environmental struggles of oppressed people all around the world.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work? Anakbayan Toronto strives for freedom and democracy in the Philippines, how has it been responding to events in Toronto and the Philippines right now during the pandemic?

COVID-19 impacted our outreach, but we adjusted to the current conditions. We worked with Kapit-Bisig Laban COVID Canada, a mutual aid network connecting the Filipino community to provide for their immediate needs. Through Kapit-Bisig, I learned directly from community members the conditions of Filipino migrant workers in Canada, and how they have intensified during the pandemic. Migrant workers, especially those who are undocumented, are excluded from Canada’s social safety net – even though they take on essential work such as childcare and agricultural production.

Many community members were also worried about their families in the Philippines. Currently there are over 250,000 COVID-19 cases in the Philippines. Rather than providing solutions to the pandemic, the Philippine government took COVID-19 as an opportunity to intensify targeting of activists and military control: checkpoints were manned by military personnel, not health workers; and quarantine violators were arrested. During the pandemic, the Anti-Terrorism Act was ratified. This act broadens the definition of terrorism and is being used to target Filipino activists both in the Philippines and abroad. We responded by launching campaigns to support activists in the Philippines, to assert that legal and democratic organizations like Anakbayan and so many others are not terrorist organizations.

“The COVID-19 pandemic further exposed the intense effects of a profit-driven system on the people, both for those who reside in Canada and those who live in the Philippines.”

As a community organizer, what have you learned from the pandemic? Has this changed the way that you organize in the community?

I actually learned the effects of this system by listening to the stories of so many Filipino community members. And even before the pandemic, they would tell me of having to go abroad for lack of work in the Philippines, of being separated from family for years, and of the conditions faced at work.

Mass migration from the Philippines doesn’t occur by chance. It is institutionalized by the Canadian government through various policies like the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the Live-In Caregiver Program, which treat migrant workers as disposable and tie their legal status in Canada to their employment. Canadian capitalists profit from cheap, exported labor.

How have you perceived the public response related to systemic oppression, racial injustice, and intersectionality and how have these struggles impacted your work?

Seeing the struggle, especially for Black lives and Indigenous lives, Filipino youth in Canada are becoming engaged by the current political climate. That explains why we saw a surge of new members and why international solidarity work a big part of Anakbayan chapters overseas.

We draw the connection between Indigenous struggles here and the struggles of Indigenous peoples and land defenders in the Philippines. Just as the Wet’suwet’en fight to assert their traditional laws over their lands, Indigenous tribes in the Philippines assert themselves over the imperialist plunder of their lands. The Canadian and the Philippine government likewise respond with strategies of state fascism, which further the global neoliberal agenda shared among the ruling elite around the world. The root reason for the invasion of Wet’suwet’en land is for Canadian extraction companies to be able to make huge profits, and so too do Canadian mining companies like Oceana Gold, Barrick Gold, and many others profit hugely from the plundering of indigenous lands in the Philippines.

“We draw the connection between Indigenous struggles here and the struggles of Indigenous peoples and land defenders in the Philippines. Just as the Wet’suwet’en fight to assert their traditional laws over their lands, Indigenous tribes in the Philippines assert themselves over the imperialist plunder of their lands.”

Do you feel like there is enough private/public funding or support in order to aid the projects that you are working on? How has the public responded to your community work throughout the pandemic?

In the Philippines recently the Anti-Terror Act was passed, COVID-19 is getting worse, and state fascism is intensifying. Our mutual aid work in Kapit-Bisig provided food security for Filipino families, and also increased awareness about these conditions. It’s important that we stay connected to what’s happening especially during the pandemic because these issues are not mainstream.

What can the public, organizations, and governments do to support your work?

We invite everyone in Canada to sign on to the petition initiated by the Canada chapter of the International Coalition of Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) and Mining Watch Canada to demand Canadian companies operating abroad to be held accountable in Canada for their role in human rights violations overseas. The petition is open until December 30th, 2020.

In addition to that, we would also like to call on everyone to join the Defend Cordillera campaign and sign the Global Pact. We want to build connections between Indigenous peoples of the world who are impacted by neoliberal policies and link the environmental struggles of oppressed peoples of the world.

Any else you would like to share? Something you feel that we haven’t asked you about?

I’m grateful for this opportunity to speak and to reaffirm that when we arm ourselves with unity and organization, genuine social transformation is possible. For the Filipino Community, we can address the root causes of labour export and mass migration and stem the tide of settlements on Turtle Island.

Community Organizing: Leading Through Change is an interview series developed in partnership with the School of Cities (University of Toronto).