A 22-year-old activist from Smokey Mountain shares how from being her parent’s perennial headache, she rose to the challenges of fighting for their community through now jailed activist Reina Nasino’s help.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Twenty-two-year-old Eleng Cejane has had her own share of misdemeanors during her younger years. She loitered in Smokey Mountain, an urban poor community in the Philippine capital, and joined riots here and there. She was, short of saying, a perennial headache to her parents.
But everything had turned around for Cejane, in the most dramatic way possible. In 2018, she had the opportunity to meet Reina Mae Nasino and her fellow activists from youth group Anakbayan. Reina was beautiful, kind, and very helpful, Cejane said, remembering her first impressions of the now jailed activist.
“She has a heart for poor,” said Cejane, who eventually became a member of Anakbayan. She enjoyed the company of her now fellow activists. She saw how their actions and campaigns have truly brought change to their community, which she never saw possible until then.
And she never turned her back again.
Reina’s fellow activists believe it was not hard for her to see herself serving urban poor communities as a full-time community organizer. She was a student of the Eulogio Amang Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology’s Special Opportunity Program, a virtually free six-month vocational course for Manila’s out of school youth, when she chanced upon student activists.
It was her love for music that led her to the doors of activism, as she was among those who founded the Musicians for Peace – Earist Chapter. She also did not shy away from students’ struggle for their right to education, particularly against the P1,000 ($20) development fee that was set to be collected from students every semester.
“She was very diligent when it comes to conducting room-to-room. It was here that she finally showed more of herself – a funny, jolly, and gushing, who is a delight to work with. You can hardly see her down and sad,” Anna (real name withheld upon request), Reina’s fellow activist from her EARIST days told Bulatlat.
Reina brought her brand of hard work and enthusiasm in the communities she worked with as she later on became a community organizer for urban poor group Kadamay’s Manila chapter.
In Smokey Mountain, Cejane, Nasino and other Anakbayan members launched several activities in their communities to engage fellow youth, including holding a Mobile Legends competition. Urban poor families have opened their doors for them, where they would sleep and even help in household chores.
“Reina washed dishes for families we worked with. She would also look after children and even help in washing clothes. These are just among the largely unknown tasks that community organizers do to better understand the plight of communities. We have to be immersed,” Cejane said.
Mothers were instantly drawn to Reina, who was funny and charming. She would crack jokes here and there to break the ice. Cejane said she never heard Reina complain of being tired.
But Reina can also be serious as an activist. Their tireless community organizing and holding of dialogues with the local government paid off when they were able to halt an impending demolition of their homes to give way to the construction of an expressway.
Cejane said her parents had initially told her off from further joining activities of progressives in their communities. But the young activist said she cannot turn a blind eye to the injustices she has witnessed, especially now with Reina’s arrest, her daughter’s death, and the glaring cruelty she faced during River’s wake and burial.
For nearly a year now, Reina has been behind bars over trumped-up cases. But the fight and struggle she helped lit remains fervent. And they are among the loudest to press for her freedom. Cejane said, “We are not sisters by blood. But our bond is just as close. What I can do now while I await for her just freedom is to continue what she has started.”