It’s been 4 years since I moved back to the United States (US) from Manila. Since then, I’ve been producing for a daily community show for the Filipino-American demographic which has given me an opportunity to really get to know the organizations that are working to help our kababayan (fellow countrymen) who are trying to cope with employment, immigration, and social issues.
The work was tedious but rewarding. The show has since ended its broadcast, after 40 years of local programming for the Asian-American communities in Los Angeles (LA). However, the work has made a lasting impression and makes me realize the platform it provided the voiceless in our Filipino community.
This is where I got involved with organizations such as Pilipino Workers Center, Filipino Migrant Center, Gabriela Los Angeles, Bayan USA, and Migrante USA, among others.
Every Wednesday, the program “Kababayan Today,” in partnership with the Asian Journal, would report the news from the Philippines so I would closely monitor the continuing political upheaval every week.
Since the May 2016 elections which Rodrigo Duterte won as the country's top leader, I have reported his misogynistic views which he addressed to our nation and have continued not to accept his rhetoric as the norm. (READ: From 'fragrant' Filipinas to shooting vaginas: Duterte's top 6 sexist remarks)
I have been attacked online and in person by certain Digong Duterte Supporters at the Philippine Consulate in LA because of my critique towards the administration, but I continued respectfully dissenting on key issues, which unfortunately have never really been addressed by those that support Duterte. (READ: State-sponsored hate: The rise of the pro-Duterte bloggers)
When I was invited to be part of the Malaya Movement, a national network of Filipino Americans calling for accountability for the worsening human rights crisis in the Philippines, including the alarming extrajudicial killings of mostly urban poor, peasants, and critics of the Philippine government, I became interested to get involved and learn more about the attacks against the Filipino people. (READ: Defending human rights under Duterte)
I was also invited to host the first Malaya Movement Mixer held in May as part of a national “Stop the Killings” speaking tour bringing together a broad network of people including student organizations, labor unions, church leaders, artists, educators, writers, and legislators.
This past September, a “Pinay Uprising” fundraiser through grassroots efforts was put on in Los Angeles to raise money to send delegates to Brussels, where I got an invitation to represent the Malaya Movement as an attendee to the International People’s Tribunal (IPT) where I collaborated with Filipino-American artists such as Minerva Vier, Arianna Basco, and Ruby Ibarra, among others, who are also concerned on excessive human rights violations under the current administration.
The IPT is a global court convened by international lawyer organizations such as International Association of Democratic Lawyers, European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, IBON International, and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines as a measure by the people to speak out when their country’s justice system has failed them.
The findings and verdict were presented to the International Criminal Court, United Nations, European Parliament, and the Philippine Consulate. It is an important venue and platform for establishing the truth about what is currently happening in the Philippines to the various international agencies. (READ: Duterte faces new complaint before Int'l Crminal Court)
In the course of two days, I heard a total of 31 testimonies of expert witnesses and victims sharing their personal accounts as well as video depositions of the gross human rights violations that span extrajudicial killings, daughters of political prisoners, tortures, indigenous communities being forced off their lands, church groups and union leaders being attacked.
On the first day, I sat there live tweeting each and every testimony presented but eventually by the end of the first day. It became hard to see through the tears as I listened to all the accounts of various witnesses. I spoke to all the union organizers and human rights activists giving voice to thousands of Filipino peasants, workers, fisherfolk, indigenous people, victims and their families of extrajudicial killings, and the urban poor – all demanding justice for the countless violations of political, cultural, economic and human rights against their persons.
It is the activists, those who have rallied for the likes of Mary Jane Veloso, an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) who is currently sentenced to death by the Indonesian government even after the person who planted drugs on her had already stepped forward or those who march in the streets to honor Jennifer Laude’s memory, the transwoman who was murdered by an American soldier – these are the people whose work should be applauded and not vilified.
When one is labeled a “terrorist” for being a defender of human rights of the Filipino people, then there is no dispute that the Philippines is living under a tyrant and macho-fascist dictator.
At the end of the two days, a 10-page guilty verdict was given by the panel of jurors to both Duterte and Trump administrations.
The Trump administration was found liable for using tax dollars to fund the joint military exercises and military engagements of the US soldiers in the Philippines.
It is quite baffling that the response to the guilty verdict, given by Harry Roque, the former presidential spokesperson, was to call the IPT a sham proceeding by discrediting the jurors and one of the witnesses because he did not know them? What a way to deflect the verdict of crimes against humanity against the Filipino people by saying because he did not know any of them therefore it was not a valid proceeding. (READ: EXPLAINER: What is the value of Belgium tribunal’s guilty verdict on Duterte?)
Admittedly, I was never one of those commenting on politics as it was never of interest, coming from the entertainment sector. But the older and wiser I’ve gotten, I truly believe that turning a blind eye to the current situation in the Philippines is tantamount to enabling Duterte to eradicate anyone who goes against administration.
History will remember those who spoke up for the voiceless and oppressed.
As an artist and a human being, my resistance in this struggle is to share what I’ve witnessed and to demand accountability from the government.
December 10 is observed as International Human Rights Day. This year, I am commemorating it by lifting up the heartwrenching, yet hopeful stories of our kababayans.
As a passionate Filipino American, I invite you to join me in the Malaya Movement to rise with our community and use our collective voice to uphold human rights and amplify the call for justice and true democracy in the Philippines. Visit gtongi.com for more info. – Rappler.com
Giselle Töngi-Walters is the professional 'slashie.' Besides being mom to Sakura and Kenobi, she is also an all-around media personality. She is a model/product endorser/radio jock/writer/actor for film, TV, theater and producer for second generation Fil-Am content.