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Tearful rally urges action for journalist, activist shot in Philippines

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The steps of City Hall were filled with hugs, tears and impassioned speeches Friday as friends and community leaders came together to support a U.S. journalist and activist attacked in the Philippines.

Brandon Lee, a San Francisco native, was shot four times in the back by unknown assailants Tuesday. His is alive but in critical condition. Lee’s friends and community believe the attack was carried out by the Filipino government.

District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar spoke:

“I join with Brandon’s family and community in condemning the shooting.”

Mar said his office has been in contact with officials in U.S. Congress.

Mar said:

“[I am] calling for immediate security protections for Brandon from the U.S. Embassy [in the Philippines] and for a thorough investigation of the shooting.”

Mar added that the incident was not isolated but part of the Philippine government’s continued attacks against human rights activists and critics of President Duterte’s administration.

Aaron Levy-Wolins/SFBay Demonstrators rally in solidarity with Brandon Lee, a journalist and human rights activist who was shot in the Philippines, at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. Lee, a Chinese American and SF native, works for the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance in the Ifugao Province.

Lee, 37, was born and raised in San Francisco and attended Lincoln High School and San Francisco State University. He moved to the Philippines and according to a statement from Edward Wright, Supervisor Mar’s legislative aide:

“[Lee] works as a journalist, indigenous and environmental rights advocate, and according to a statement from Edward Wright, Supervisor Mar’s legislative aide. volunteer paralegal with the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance,”

The Cordilleria Human Rights Alliance told the Guardian:

“We hold accountable the state security forces that the Duterte administration has let loose in the Cordillera region.”

According to several of Lee’s friends and community members who spoke Friday, he had been receiving death threats for years.

Aaron Levy-Wolins/SFBay (From center, left to right) Tina Shaun-Bajar, 38, Alexis David, 34, Valerie Francisco-Menchavez and Faye Lacanilao raise their fists during a rally in solidarity with Brandon Lee, a journalist and human rights activist who was shot in the Philippines, at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. Lee, a Chinese American and SF native, works for the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance in the Ifugao Province. The group of demonstrators held their fists to symbolize that their lives were touched by Lee.

Lee’s cousin Lauren made a statement. She said:

“I don’t think he realizes the impact he made in my life, but he taught me to be kind, even when life gets hard, giving even when you don’t have much to give and to smile even when you feel down… He taught me that helping and serving others is the most important thing you can live for. I aspire to be like him every single day.”

Raquel Redondiaz, who emceed the press conference, told the crowd that since he was shot and underwent surgery to remove a bullet lodged in his face, Lee has had multiple cardiac arrests.

Aaron Levy-Wolins/SFBay Melissa Reyes, a friend of Brandon Lee, cries during a rally in solidarity with Lee, a journalist and human rights activist who was shot in the Philippines, at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. Lee, a Chinese American and SF native, works for the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance in the Ifugao Province.

As the rally continued, speeches started to sound more like eulogies.

Carlo Montemayor, a friend of Lee’s, spoke about the emotional and psychological challenges he and his community faced in connection to the shooting.

Montemayor said:

“It’s been an exhausting and draining few days, not eating, not sleeping; not knowing what time it is, what day it is [or] what’s going on around us because our minds are so entrenched thinking about our friend and his family. But the body can only endure so much sadness, so much anger and so much stress till your emotions just shut down and are seemingly unavailable to you.”

He continued:

“I didn’t know what state I was going to be in coming here this morning, but when I look out into the audience and I see all the love for our friend…”

Montemayor choked through tears:

“…I’m so inspired; I’m so moved that everyone came out here to support our friend, our brother.”

He told the crowd he didn’t want to be there – he didn’t want to speak in front of media cameras again. Montemayor recalled when he spoke out in 2012 against taxpayer funds going to the Philippine military.

Aaron Levy-Wolins/SFBay Supporters of Brandon Lee hold hands in unity during a rally in solidarity with Lee, a journalist and human rights activist who was shot in the Philippines, at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. Lee, a Chinese American and SF native, works for the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance in the Ifugao Province.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 46 journalists have been killed in the last 10 years – all but one were murdered.

SFBay reached out to the Philippine Consulate of San Francisco for a statement but did not receive a reply.

Montemayor urged the community and government leaders to act. He said:

“How many more of these press conferences, these rallies, these campaigns are we going to need to have? How many communities have to be destroyed? How many more of our friends and families are we going to have to bury until we open our eyes and do something about the suffering we allow to happen with our complacency?”

Several Friends and community groups, such as the League of Filipino Students, a group Lee was a member of when he attended SF State, got up to speak about him. Supporters in the crowd wiped away tears and hugged tightly as each person spoke.

Aaron Levy-Wolins/SFBay Valerie Francisco-Menchavez (right), an assistant professor of sociology at SF State, hugs a fellow supporter during a rally in solidarity with Brandon Lee, a journalist and human rights activist who was shot in the Philippines, at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. Lee, a Chinese American and SF native, works for the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance in the Ifugao Province.

Montemayor summed up what Lee stands for when he said:

“He had no roots in the Philippines but it didn’t matter to him because he recognized the humanity of all people – even if they were on the other side of the world, even if they were out of his sight, and it was that sense of connectedness, of compassion, of duty to others that compelled him to do what few of us would.”

Montemayor continued:

“He moved to the Philippines, one of the most impoverished places in the world and one of the most dangerous for journalists, for environmentalists and for human rights workers. He moved there to work alongside the most vulnerable and marginalized people in their struggle to keep their lands, to be able to live their lives with dignity.”

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