Dennise is an activist, labor organizer, and human rights defender. I consider him a good friend since our days in the student movement in the late 1990s.
He grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Valenzuela. He majored in management as an undergrad at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. He became an activist after joining the Students for National Democracy.
I first met him in 1998 in Diliman when he represented activist groups from PUP for youth consultations on various social issues. This was right before the founding of Anakbayan. We were part of a group of students in Metro Manila who volunteered in a peasant immersion program in Southern Tagalog in 1999.
I would frequently see him in rallies especially during the ‘Oust Estrada’ campaign in 2000 and 2001. At that time, he was already active in community youth organizing in the areas of Taft and Intramuros in Manila.
The second People Power which saw the gigantic mobilization of the youth had a profound impact on our generation. Many activists became full time organizers who campaigned for Bayan Muna, supported the ROTC abolition, and helped establish the Kabataan Partylist.
Dennise was one of these activists who performed a key role in broadening the reach of our groups and harnessing the militancy of the youth movement amid the intensifying terror under the Gloria Arroyo regime.
He was among our strategists in plotting our electoral campaign in 2007 and re-election victory in 2010. The Supreme Court decision in 2009 paved the way for the entry of Kabataan Partylist in Congress.
Dennise is married to Diane Zapata, an activist he met in UP Diliman. Diane was our legislative officer in Congress who led a team of researchers in drafting bills and resolutions of Kabataan Partylist, some of which are now laws of the land. Dennise is known for his sense of humor which he often uses every time we discuss politics. His views on the politics of the day are always insightful and practical. His grasp of Marxist theory and its application to various particularities are impressive. We have benefited from his sharp intellect in identifying the unfolding political situation and what needs to be done in seizing the moment.
In 2013, I joined Bayan Metro Manila where I would work again with Dennise in establishing our chapter in Caloocan.
Dennise was already a labor organizer near the manufacturing hub in Valenzuela when Tokhang police operations created terror in many barangays in 2016. Dennise worked with numerous grassroots formations in building local resistance against Tokhang and boosted the human rights campaign in north Caloocan.
Dennise became part of Defend Jobs which advocated several high-profile labor rights issues involving workers of Jollibee, PLDT, and TNVS drivers. During the 2019 election, Defend Jobs organized a creative and mobile campaign featuring its ‘Labor Vote Bus’. I’m sure that Dennise, a ‘veteran’ election tactician, had a role in conceptualizing this campaign gimmick.
Prior to his arrest, Dennise was coordinating relief efforts in Marikina. He planned to use proceeds from his small coffee business to procure relief goods and offer livelihood opportunities in the neighborhood. Aside from gathering relief, Dennise helped in forming a community-based network of flood victims demanding accountability from the national government. Members of this network joined a multisectoral rally on December 7 in front of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Three days later, Dennise was arrested by the police based on planted evidence.
The police report tagged him as a member of a ‘criminal gang’ after planting firearms and explosives inside his house in Quezon City. This is meant to vilify him as a person and remove his identity as an activist. It is aimed at conditioning a favorable public opinion to the brutal state-sponsored crackdown on activists like Dennise.
The state intends to portray him as a violent citizen who seeks to cause mayhem in society even if all this time he only used his activism to empower the poor and oppressed. Dennise devoted his life in service to others but the Rodrigo Duterte government could only see how this kind of political advocacy is a threat to its criminal agenda. Hence, the mad extralegal maneuver to harass, persecute, and silence activists.
Dennise has endured many struggles in the past but now he is facing a new challenge as the disgraced Duterte regime rabidly fights for credibility.
The activism of Dennise is a menace but only to corrupt and tyrannical regimes. Because of this, Dennise is incarcerated despite committing no crime other than speaking truth to power.
For those who know Dennise and his activism, we will be amplifying his voice as we fight for his freedom. We will not stop reminding the public that the life he chose should be celebrated as we continue the struggle for real democracy in our country.
*Mong Palatino is the chairman of Bayan Metro Manila. He can be reached via @mongster