‘Revolutionary’ activist Pet Cleto dies at 72

Pet Cleto, right, with another womens activist Bernadette Ellorin, chair of USA Bayan.



Life-long devotion to womens issues

By Ted Alcuitas

She was called a revolutionary woman, defender of human rights and a journalist, but to the mostly young women who followed her, she was plain ‘Tita Pet’ and to those on the Left, ‘Tita ng Bayan’.

Petronila G. Cleto died January 11, 2018 in a Toronto hospital after a short illness. She was of 72.

Her life-long devotion to the women’s struggle started as a young woman in the Philippines where she helped found Gabriela Philippines, Women for the Ouster of Marcos and Boycott (WOMB) as well as Concerned Mothers League and the country’s first political party, KAIBA.

Her activism did not stop when she moved to Canada.

Cleto, shown here in centre, with some of the women in one of the many rallies she attended and organized. (Photo, Dr. Ethel Tungohan, FB)


Deploying her writing skills, she helped edit the literary anthology AKDAAN compiling the works of Filipino writers in exile. She edited two volumes and was reportedly working on a third before her untimely death.

She was also planning a novel.
Cleto co-hosted a TV program and wrote for the Toronto-based Philippine Reporter. She co-founded the Filipino-Canadian Writers and Journalists Network and was a member of the National Ethnic Press ad Media Council of Canada.

She is survived by a daughter Cynthia, sister Ruth Cleto-Dunn and a brother, Dr. Samuel Cleto of Winnipeg.

Following is an obituary written by Ysh Cabana.

Pet Cleto, Filipina writer and activist, writes ‘30’

By Ysh Cabana

Petronila Cleto, a seasoned journalist who became a prominent advocate of press freedom and women’s rights, died January 11 at a hospital in Toronto, where he lived. She was 72. The cause was complications of multiple organ failure, said her sister Ruth Cleto-Dunn.

Pet or Tita Pet, as she is fondly called, became known as a dynamic newspaper writer and art/film critic, whose talent and integrity cannot be ignored. In 2004 she was named as one of the Philippines’ leading film reviewers by the national association of film critics.

She had art reviews and poetry along with her feature articles published. In the mid-1970s, while covering the Manila Film Festival, she produced a series of acclaimed profiles, critiques and interviews with such distinguished directors as Akira Kurosawa, Werner Herzog and Gillo Pontecorvo. She also authored at least five plays, including Operetang Tatlong Kusing (an adaptation of Bertold Brecht’s Threepenny Opera), which were produced twice by the University of the Philippines, and Pasintabi Sa Nuno (To Our Ancestors) which was performed at the Nancy International Theatre Festival in France.

Amidst a backdrop of widespread social inequality and unrest in the 80s, she became involved in the establishment of Third World feminist groups such as GABRIELA Philippines, Women for the Ouster of Marcos and Boycott (WOMB), Concerned Mothers League and the first Philippine women’s political party, KAIBA. In 1989, she co-founded the Women’s Crisis Centre, a shelter for survivors of sexual violence.

It was her reporting of the corruption taking place in the Philippines that led to a 1-million peso lawsuit brought against her. With the political corruption and injustice in her homeland, she sought exile.

In 1991, Ms. Cleto moved back to Canada, where she joined PEN Canada, whose International Writers in Exile Network has helped establish the position of International Writer-in-Residence at several Canadian Universities: McMaster University (2008); and she was a lecturer at George Brown College (2011).

While in Canada she has coordinated non-profit and community-based theatre workshops, managed a Manila-based video news agency, and produced documentaries on forced disappearances during the Marcos years, on political prisoners, and migrant workers.

Petronila Galicia Cleto was born in the province of Nueva Ecija on Oct. 18, 1945. She grew up in the  the Philippines and found a strong affinity with writing early on.

She began her career in journalism when she became the editor in her high school newspaper in Manila. Despite a strong affinity for writing, she enrolled in university at the age of 14 to study medicine. However, the desire to write was ever present, forcing her to reconsider her career path.

A few years later, while taking her pre-medical degree, Ms. Cleto left Manila to pursue a BA in journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa.

When she returned to the Philippines, it was to a country being torn apart by corruption and injustice. She enrolled once more in the University of the Philippines for a BA in English and Comparative Literature.

There she became deeply involved in student politics. Outraged by the disappearances and killings which took place under the Martial Law imposed by President Marcos, she committed herself to a career as a professional journalist. She wrote on politics, culture, human rights and poverty for mainstream publications such as The Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Manila Times, and Malaya.
For decades, she was very active and committed to the many things she was doing until the end. She co-hosted TV Migrante, was involved in research and organizing of caregivers and migrant workers, wrote for The Philippine Reporter, was a member of the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada, had co-founded the Filipino-Canadian Writers and Journalists Network, a leader of women’s group Gabriela-Ontario and a respected elder in Migrante Canada.

In a 2014 essay to introduce Akdaan anthology, the first collection of Filipino literary pieces in Canada she wrote “this assurance of context that one’s efforts are received and acknowledged by an audience is an important key opening doors both to the world of action and the world of thought.”

She continued, “From what I know of community involvement and activism, the assurance of a venue through which one could contribute to other lives is a wonderful key to the mutable world.”

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