Valedictorian Justher Gutierrez '14 Honored for Human Rights Advocacy

Justher Gutierrez ‘14 was recently recognized for her advocacy of human rights in the Philippines.

Gutierrez is the local coordinator for Malaya Movement South Bay, a grassroots organization dedicated to fighting for human rights, sovereignty, and democracy in the Philippines. Malaya, meaning “free” in Filipino, has hosted speaking tours, workshops, and rallies to help raise awareness of the current human rights issues facing the Philippines, from the drug war to increased militarization of indigenous communities to the targeting of journalists, lawyers, and human rights defenders.

California Assemblymember Alex Lee (25th District) recognized Gutierrez and four others during an event honoring local leaders and activists on June 30.

“For me, it was important to show up and accept this recognition publicly,” Justher said. “I’m very concerned about what’s happening there. There’s importance in being recognized when many activists in the Philippines are being targeted.

“In my speech, I called attention to Chad Booc, an advocate who also happened to be gay. He was killed by the armed forces last year being accused of being a terrorist supporter. It’s heartbreaking. I identify with Chad in many ways. We both graduated college, we’re teachers, and he’s also queer. It’s important to draw attention to him and many other people who are continuing this fight.”

Justher credits Saint Mary’s assisting her ability to leave to serve. She was active in CILSA, majored in Communication, and was selected as class Valedictorian. Her coursework and social justice work led her to look beyond one-off fixes when bigger solutions were needed. “What I appreciated about CILSA and student leadership was that people were trying to wrestle with ‘how are we going to fix this and how are we going to change the world?’ I think that was already in me. Saint Mary’s helped it flourish.”

After giving the Valedictorian address, she returned home to East San Jose as a teacher before finding herself drawn back to community organizing. She also does communications and outreach work with the Filipino Community Center in San Francisco. “I felt that I ultimately wanted to do good, but there has to be systemic change to be made. We have to understand the roots of poverty and inequality.”

“I’ve grown to not fear trying many things, seeing what works and what doesn’t then start again.”

“I spent a lot of time at CILSA and the Women’s Resource Center, just thinking about what do I do after I’m done with my time here? I’m hoping I’m on the right path. I have appreciated my time at Saint Mary’s and I’m looking forward to staying connected.”