10 March 2007

Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines

By some lucky coincidence, there was a technical problem at the call centre, we were all dismissed and I had the chance to go to an event I have been looking for: Crisis in the Philippines? organised by the Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines (CHRP).

It was a professionally conducted one-day conference at SOAS with interesting presentations by speakers from Amnesty International, SOAS and International Alert about:

_ "Human Rights in the Philippines"
_ "Class and Violence in the Philippines: Some ethnographic observations"
_ "The Fourthcoming Philippine Elections"

And then workshops on:

_ Mining in the Philippines: Benefits, Dangers and Pitfalls
_ Filipino Migration: A "brain drain" (guess which workshop I attended!)
_ Human Rights in the Philippines: Actions and Campaigns

The first things I thought after the first presentations and questions from the (mainly Filipino) audience was

1) this is the first time ever since I came to London that I saw so many Filipinos
2) this is the first time that I see Filipinos and Filipinas engage actively in political discussions and current issues, not only on a lay level but also on an academic level. The people I knew in Austria lack what speaker Prof. Eduardo Garcia called "political imagination" - and I understand it is greatly due to the nature of "democracy" in the Philippines and people not believing in politics and elections. However, although Filipino migrants in Austria live under considerable better conditions than their fellows in other countries of the world, they can hardly be unaware of the experiences others have. Nevertheless, - and I am referring to the circles I was in - whenever I started a discussion about Philippines-related issues, it is interesting how little response and participation followed from that.
3) there DO ARE other (half-)Filipino students in London! I met George (grew up in Los Angeles and studies at LSE), Jonathan (grew up in the Philippines and went straight to LSE) and Antonio (?) (SOAS student and president of the CHRP).
4) there DO ARE other (half-)Filipino students who have studied anthropology.
5) I have never seen a Filipino professor in person, in action!

Other things I noticed:
1) Pansit is not pansit (it had Broccoli, red pepper, and onions which all do not belong into original pansit but I guess this was the British Cuisine finding its way into philippine dishes *sigh*).
2) I have never been to an event organised by Filipinos and Filipinas where there was white & red wine, cheese (not even that crap cheddar cheese but Austrian-style cheese) and what Tesco sells as German Peppered Salami. I am impressed.

There is so much more I want to say on this... congregation and the political issues which were the reason for its being... I still have to digest what I have seen, heard and observed. It has been a greatly inspiring event and also intriguing for the anthropologist in me. To see another group of Filipinos I have never met before in a country other than my country of origin is quite similar actually to what Filipino migrants themselves experience upon coming to another country. So, it is quite ironic to walk part of their way with them, even when our circumstances may be different. Haha, you could even call it a twisted kind of participant observation! No, I was not on some undercover research trip to analyse "subjects"! In fact, I met some quite nice people there, Filipino and friends of Filipinos alike, who I hope to meet again in the future, maybe even at a Barrio Fiesta (which I have heard are huge in London)!

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