Interview with Cristina Palabay –

Cristina Palabay, also known as Tinay, is a committed activist and feminist. Palabay has been a political activist since her student days at the University of the Philippines, as Secretary General of the Nationwide Alliance of UP student Councils and later on, as the National President of the National Union of Students of the Philippines. She was a founder, and later on, the Secretary General of the Gabriela Women’s Party. Palabay has been instrumental in founding Tanggol Bayi, a national network and association of women human rights defenders in the Philippines to advance women’s rights as human rights. Palabay is also convenor of several advocacy platforms focused on women’s rights such as APWLD (Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development). Palabay is a Board Member of Kapederasyon, an organization of lesbian, gays, bisexuals and transgenders in the Philippines, as she is also a lesbian activist.

Since 2010, she is the Secretary General of Karapatan, a national alliance of human rights organizations, desks and individuals working for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines. As spokesperson and representative of this alliance, she has joined numerous quick reactions, fact-finding missions to document and investigate human rights violations, conduct advocacy activities and lead mass actions. She has equally provided paralegal assistance to victims and filed cases and complaints to courts. She has conducted lobby efforts to the enactment of various legislations for human rights, such as the Bill for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

Palabay works in Philippines, one of the most dangerous countries for human rights defenders.

1. What does it mean for you to be a human rights defender as a woman?
Being a human rights defender and a woman means having an intersectional perspective on the root causes of social issues and a comprehensive framework in transforming situations that are detrimental to human rights and women’s rights.
For me, it is also about having to learn and re-learn courage, daring to confront, challenge and disrupt the prevailing feudal narratives about women, taking risks to save lives, building resilience to struggle on, and braving uncharted paths to dare build a better society.

2. From your point of view, what are the struggles that women confront (social, economic, political, environmental, institutional, etc.) as human rights defenders that are particular to women?
Women continue to face multiple burdens on the basis of our sex and gender. We remain to be viewed and treated as commodities or properties, as second-class citizens, and as collateral damage. During crises, women bear the burden of economic distress as we take on multiple roles as doing care work and domestic work or face unemployment or underemployment, while access to health services including reproductive health, remains severely under-prioritized. Likewise, women face under-representation in structures of informal or formal decision-making, politics, and governance. At times women face misrepresentation because our interests and rights are not upheld in these structures. We continue to face discrimination and inequality and are at the receiving end of gender-based violence. These struggles are particular to women human rights defenders.

I eat death and rape threats every day through SMS threats on my mobile phone and online accounts. I am likewise bearing the brunt of judicial harassment. The threats I received, have been laced with sexualized threats of violence, one that seeks to dehumanize a person and to discourage one from doing work as a woman human rights defender.

3. What has been the development in your country for women as human rights defenders?
The women’s movement and human rights advocacy in the Philippines have made tremendous victories pushing forward legislation that criminalizes rape, sexual harassment, trafficking, and other forms of violence against women and children. We have likewise a Magna Carta of Women, which enshrines the rights of women including the right to public participation, as well as the mainstreaming of gender and development policies. Nevertheless, aside from its poor implementation, these laws and policies remain unable to deal with the root causes of women’s oppression. Thus, such measures are seen as tokenistic gestures.

Women human rights defenders remain unrecognized as such and are at the receiving end of State violence, including killings, arbitrary arrests and detention, enforced disappearances, red-tagging and vilification, death and rape threats, and other forms of gender-based violence. Such treatment is widely seen to have connections with the misogynist language and harmful rhetoric and policies promoted against human rights defenders by those in government.

Throughout the years, Palabay has consistently defended human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Courageously, she has issued press statements, spoken in public fora, mobilised protests, lobbied regional and international human rights bodies to denounce the human rights violations committed by the government.

Due to her work, Palabay constantly faces dangerous situations from red-tagging2 to online death and rape threats on almost a daily basis. Palabay has been subject to judicial harassment from the government’s National Security Adviser. Palabay faced a warrant of arrest, after her advocacy work at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2020 denouncing the human rights violations of Duterte’s government. After safely returning back to the Philippines, Palabay posted a bail.

In the past four years, 13 Karapatan human rights defenders have been killed. None of the cases has been prosecuted, less solved. Zara Alvarez, a dear friend of Palabay, was killed in August 2020. What disturbs Palabay the most is not the death and rape threats, the surveillance and judicial harassment, but the killings of the good and kind people. Palabay still griefs over Alvarez’ death.

To address the risks, she implements security protocols such as constantly taking different routes and forms of transportation as well as working and sleeping in different places. Furthermore, Karapatan reports the violations to social media companies. Karapatan conducts digital security trainings among the human rights defenders. Last, but not least, they organise psycho-social debriefing sessions.

4 – What are the obstacles to reach solidarity for gender justice towards women as human rights defenders?
The deeply entrenched patriarchal structures remain the main obstacle in solidarity for justice among women and men human rights defenders. What women human rights defenders strive for is solidarity that sees how the root causes of women’s oppression are comprehensively analyzed and addressed against by transforming the concrete conditions that enable the violations against women human rights defenders.

5 – In your opinion, Is there a link between environmental justice, social justice, and the struggle for justice particularly to women?
Women’s struggle for justice is inextricably linked to the struggle for environmental and social justice, as the root causes of environmental degradation, poverty, and inequality form part of the fabric of the root causes of women’s oppression.

6 – What would be your advice for the next generation of women human rights defenders?
For the next generation of women human rights defenders, your future is in your hands – you have the power to define a better world by fighting for gender justice, social and environmental justice. I enjoin you to chart this difficult, perilous but beautiful and enlightening struggle for dignity and freedom.

Inspite of the risk she faces, Palabay continues unabated in her activism. She aspires for a just and humane society in the Philippines and everywhere else. Even if it is a big dream, she will not stop longing and working for it. She hopes that even if she does not see it in her lifetime, her work and way contributes to the society for the future generations.



  1. Red-tagging is the blacklisting of individuals or organisation as either communists or terrorist or both, independently of their political affiliations or beliefs. It is perfomed by public servants or shills to individuals or organisations that are critical or not fully supportive of the governmental actions and policies.

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