(L-R): Leonie Ebert (2nd); Graham Smith (4th), Deborah Wall (5th); Sam Altman (7th)
Australian Teachers in Solidarity, Manila, 1985*
It was 1985 when I first met Leonie and her husband, Graham Smith, in the Philippines. Leonie, Graham and I were three of the ten-member delegation from Australia participating in what political activists in Manila called an ‘exposure tour’ designed to lift a broader public awareness of the social conditions under the late President Ferdinand Marcos’s martial law regime.
Our clandestine tour included a visit to Samar, Davao and parts of Luzon. While the focus of the tour, sponsored by the Australian Teachers Union and hosted by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, was the impact of martial law governance on education, we were given a broad-based orientation on ‘structural analysis’. Included was a critical assessment of the role played by Australian transnational corporations in the Philippines under martial law. At that time, the government embarked on an export led economic development with the establishment of exclusive export processing work zone that set working conditions which we felt were detrimental to the protection of workers’ rights. We were also made aware of the risks of choosing a nuclear energy option in a country where earthquakes were prevalent. An Australian corporation was involved in the establishment of that nuclear plant (later dismantled).
On our return to Australia, we disseminated what we have learnt from the tour through writing articles and giving public talks. The following year, the Philippine government faced ‘People Power’. President Marcos was toppled. He was whisked away by the US government to Hawaii to help him escape from his enemies. Nuns prayed in EDSA and lay in front of tanks. The military abandoned their leader. I believe ‘People Power’ inspired South Africa in their quest for a peaceful transition of governance from white to black rule.
From our tour 32 years ago, I have maintained my friendship with Leonie and Graham (who passed away in 1989) and with Sam Altman who lives in Sydney. Our common ground that sustained our friendship, apart from liking each other, is our passion and commitment to advocate for peace and social justice in Australia and anywhere in the world.
Leonie Ebert turned 80 on 29 January 2017. Leonie and her daughter, Naomi concelebrated their birthdays — Naomi’s 40th year. I consider it a privilege to be a witness to their special day in Adelaide on 28 January 2017 with their family and friends.
- Apologies for non-inclusion of other people’s names. I have forgotten the names of the others.