May 16, 2023 - After living in Canada for 35 years, Florchita Bautista is returning to her native land to ride off into the sunset.
“What am I intending to do when I go back home for good?” Bautista or simply Tita Chit asks in return when quizzed about her plans in the Philippines.
“The answer is,” the Vancouver woman says, “I just want to rest, relax, and reflect on the past years of my life.”
“I hope God will accept my plan and let me be this time. Or he might also have other plans waiting for me for the last years of my lifeof which I am not yet aware.
“We will see.”
Now 86, Bautista lived the life of a true servant to the masses.
In the Philippines and here in Canada, the former nun has been a community organizer, champion of migrants, pastoral worker, teacher, researcher, author, filmmaker, and a seniors advocate.
In all these roles, Bautista adhered to one basic principle, which is to live and learn with the people.
She was always with the masses, listening to their stories, distilling lessons from their experience, articulating this knowledge back to them, and mobilizing them to put these principles into concrete action to achieve change.
Bautista felt the people’s pulse, knew their thoughts, and stood side by side with them in their struggle.
“When I first arrived in Winnipeg, Manitoba, I wanted to work in the garment industries to be able to help organize the women workers,” Bautista recalls the time she landed in Canada in June 1988.
As she explains, “getting immersed in the actual tasks of the people I served was a good way of making me participate in their experience”.
“That way, I could more effectively empathize with them and my stories about their plight were more realistic rather than mere hearsay.”
Bautista eventually found her way to Toronto, where she established a group called AWARE in 1989.
AWARE dedicated itself to educating Filipino temporary workers in Canada about their rights as well as to the betterment of their conditions.
The group gave birth to Gabay (gabay is Filipino word for guide or guidance), which was composed of workers who had gone through the workshops and seminars of AWARE and with a mission of helping newly arrived workers.
Bautista also collaborated with filmmaker Mari Boti of Productions Multi-Monde. The two produced documentaries depicting the situation of foreign workers in Canada and the impact of labour migration:
Brown Women, Blonde Babies in 1991, and When Strangers Re-unite in 1999.
Bautista moved to Vancouver in 2001, and continued organizing work with caregivers and temporary foreign workers.
In 2006, she released her autobiography titled Leaping into the Unknown. She came out with her second book, Across Time and Space, in 2019.
Meantime, Bautista became a founding member of the Canada Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights, which was established in 2008.
In 2009, she helped found Migrante B.C., a grassroots organization of and for Filipino immigrants and migrant workers.
At its first assembly in 2011, Migrante B.C. acclaimed seven members of its coordinating collective: Bautista, Ana Cagas-Tabella, Leo Alejandria, Vivien Oropel, Juliet Rivada, Marjorie Eda, and Jane Ordinario.
“I noticed that in my whole life the saying that goes, ‘Man proposes, God disposes’ has been quite the rule,” Bautista says.
When she was in high school in the Philippines, Bautista wanted to be a pianist, and she enrolled in a degree in music for her post-second education. She later shifted to studies in the foreign service, but eventually became a nun.
As a nun, she served as a teacher, guidance counsellor, pastoral worker, and a choir conductor in the parishes where she was assigned. It was in the course of this work that she found her calling as an advocate for justice and human rights.
“I felt so at home and relaxed by just being with the simple people,” Bautista says.
“The more I learned about the life and struggles of the simple folks, the more I started to detest the big politics and business world and so-called elites in the society who were oppressing the poor I was with.
“I did not get the chance to attend international conferences with heads of states that determine the economic and political policiesof world relationships, but I had all the time to listen to emaciated mothers feeding their equally mal-nourished children with nothing but rice and salt.
“I did not have the chance to give a concert, not even in our local theatre, but I had the chance to conduct seminars and workshop in Toronto and Vancouver and to advocate for the rights of the nannies and caregivers.
“Experience and the wisdom of the years will tell us that living a simple life given in the service of others give us more peace and contentment than all that the world can offer,” Bautista says.
On April 20, 2023, Mable Elmore, Member of the Legislative Assembly of B.C. for Vancouver-Kensington, delivered a statement on the floor of the House to honour life and work of Bautista.
“Florchita Bautista, now a seniors advocate in Vancouver, spent her younger years in the Philippines under the Marcos dictatorship as a progressive, religious nun, living the preferential option for the poor, particularly for the workers, the urban poor and Indigenous peoples in the Cordillera. She was a member of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and worked as a teacher, guidance counsellor and, later, as a pastoral worker in the various mission sites of the congregation,” Elmore recalled.
Elmore also said that Bautista continues to inspire others.
“She is much loved,” Elmore said.
[Disclosure: Carlito Pablo works at the Vancouver-Kensington office of MLA Mable Elmore.]