[OPINION] My fight is their fight: Stand with human rights defenders under attack
At around 6 pm pn August 5, 2019, Brandon Lee, a correspondent of the alternative online paper Northern Dispatch, was shot in front of his house in Lagawe, Ifugao. Lee is also a paralegal volunteer for the Ifugao Peasant Movement, and was redtagged by the military in 2015. The following is his statement on the shooting incident.
First of all, thank you to all who came together out of concern and love to bring me back to the San Francisco Bay Area, where I am now undergoing intensive physical therapy for up to 5 hours a day. Your support warms my heart as I commit to prioritizing my recovery.
The attempt on my life did not succeed, nor has it scared me off, as was the intention.
Second, your support and concern for me must now help others like me in the Philippines who continue to face state attacks. The fight for justice, and for human rights in the Philippines, continues. I fight not only for myself, but for my fellow human rights defenders targeted by the Duterte government for no other reason than advocating for the voiceless and criticizing the failed policies of the government in alleviating the Filipino people, especially those in rural areas, from the daily crisis of crushing poverty and hunger.
I spent 9 years in the Northern Philippines struggling alongside the most courageous indigenous peoples and landless farmers of the Cordillera region to protect and defend the rich agricultural lands, mountains, and rivers from the biggest foreign corporations conducting widespread, aggressive extraction and environmental degradation. Because of this work, my colleagues and I with the Ifugao Peasant Movement were targeted and subjected to death threats for years by the Philippine military, specifically the 54th Infantry Battallion of the Philippine Army. I lost two of my colleagues – William Bugatti and Ricardo Mayumi, both paralegals – to assassinations by the Philippine military.
Since October 31, 2019, offices and affiliated offices of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, or BAYAN, in the island of Negros Oriental and in Manila have been subject to Gestapo-like raids and searches by the Philippine National Police. These include the offices of the women's alliance Gabriela, Kadamay Urban Poor Network, Karapatan National Alliance for Human Rights, and the National Federation of Sugar Workers. Over 60 arrests have been conducted under false charges and with planted evidence. Some have gone missing, like human rights defender Honey Mae Suazo of Karapatan in Southern Mindanao. Some have been killed, such as peasant leader Rey Malaborbor in Laguna. The Duterte government has declared these groups as communist fronts, even going as far using the term "communist terrorist group" to describe legitimate disaster relief providers working post-earthquake in the southern island of Mindanao.
I left the US to live in the Philippines back in 2010 because I was inspired by a widespread, vibrant, and fearless mass movement for change in the country. A movement with a vision, that is taking action to end deep-seated government corruption, to break the system of land dynasties and distribute land to the hungry tillers who comprise the majority of the population, provide decent jobs at home so 7,000 Filipinos don't have to migrate daily just for work and leave their children behind, and basic services to the marginalized. It was in joining this struggle that I met my partner and we raised our child. I have met some of the bravest and most selfless freedom fighters from the ranks of the country's poorest, while the decadence of the country's rich is maintained by a repressive and fascist state, now represented by Rodrigo Duterte.
As a father and activist, I do not want this to be the country my child or any other Filipino child inherits.
Bracing for more raids and killings under Duterte, these brave defenders are not backing down. They are not being scared away. They are standing their ground.
We must stand with them. My fight is their fight too. Our struggles are connected.
For those of us in the US, let's not forget that the Philippine military and police receive the largest aid package from the US government in the Asia-Pacific region. I am certain that bullets still in my body, lodged in my spine, were purchased with US tax dollars.
One of the most concrete ways to add our voices loudly to the growing international clamor to stop the attacks of the Duterte government against human rights defenders is to demand that our congressional representatives take action to suspend US aid to the Philippines until it investigates and can prove none of our tax dollars are linked to these abuses.
The American people don't want blood on our hands, and these hundreds of millions in US aid to the Philippines must be redirected for domestic needs here in the US such as education, healthcare, and housing.
Join me in taking a stand and saying:
Stop the attacks!
Stop the killings!
End US support to the Duterte government!
Stand with human rights defenders in the Philippines! – Rappler.com
Brandon Lee is a paralegal volunteer for the Ifugao Peasant Movement (IPM) and a columnist for the Northern Dispatch. A Chinese-American, Lee came from San Francisco, California and was a member of the League of Filipino Students there, despite not being a Filipino.