Press Release
January 31, 2019

January 28, 2019
European Parliament, Brussels, Belgium
(SOLIDAR Silver Rose Award For Contributions to Civil Society, "The Progressive Civil Society Award.")

Ladies and gentlemen, members of Parliament, to the wonderful people who made this event possible, good evening.

I am very grateful, and very humbled to accept this award tonight, especially since the people before me are such esteemed company: Dr. Nagham Nawzat Hasan who received this award in 2016 for her work in human rights and for fighting against gender-based violence. There's also the Sudan Organization Against Torture, which was recognized in 2006, and the German journalist and 2015 awardee Gunter Wallraff, who was so successful as an undercover journalist that the Swedish verb "wallraffa' means "to expose misconduct from the inside by assuming a role." (Is this true? ) In the meantime, my closest claim to fame is being called "Hontivirus" by trolls on social media, not quite as cutting-edge I know.

But this award is important and meaningful to me not only because it puts me in very fine company, but also because - in this period of darkness in my country - Solidar is a fellow traveler to pro-democracy social forces and the human rights community in the Philippines and a formidable ally of my party, Akbayan. Solidar's Secretary General Conny Reuter was one of those who participated in the human rights mission organized by Progressive Alliance and the Party of European Socialists (PES) in the Philippines in October 2017, a mission that has earned the ire of President Duterte himself. Further, I note with gratitude that Solidar, during its Congress, also passed a resolution in support of Human Rights and Democracy in the Philippines.

Indeed, because of allies like Solidar in the international community, we continue speaking truth to power. We continue championing democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We continue to do the work we set out to do -- which is to craft policies to make the lives of the underserved better, while continuing the fight against despotism, impunity, misogyny, strongman populism.

I am happy that we have managed to pass several landmark measures in my country, and that is because so many people worked together and recognized a greater goal. For the first time in my country's history for example, we now have a national policy strategy for mental health, including financing mental health interventions within our public health system. We also recently passed the first 1,000 days law, which mandates that resources and programs be allocated for the proper nutrition of children during their first 1,000 days of life. The HIV-AIDS law has also now been passed, and we are hoping that this will finally reduce the cases of HIV-AIDS in my country.

We are also very close to passing the Expanded Maternity Leave Bill, which will increase the number of maternity leave days from the current 60 to 105. Until this bill is signed into law, my country is has fewest number of maternity leave days in the ASEAN region. Likewise, our Safe Streets bill is on the verge of passage - a landmark legislation that will finally criminalize gender-based street and public spaces harassment.

Yet, there is so much more that needs to be done. Extrajudicial killings are still continuing unabated, and the Drug War is still terrorizing many poor communities in the Philippines. The administration is campaigning aggressively for its own candidates for the midterm elections - candidates who will ensure that Duterte and his draconian policies will not be fettered by the legislature.

And right now, even as we speak, we are waging a battle to protect our children and prevent the lowering of the age of criminal liability. A bill in the House of Representatives seeks to change the minimum from the current 15 to, initially, 9 years old. This is, my friends, is terrible. It is not enough that the Drug War has been tainted by the blood of innocent children; now the government wants to institutionalize a policy that will cast them to an unforgiving criminal justice system. Instead of addressing the conditions and the causes that drive children to crime, government wants to throw them to jail. This despite credible data that only 1.7% of all crime in the Philippines is committed by children. And more often than not, these children are themselves the victims of drug and human trafficking syndicates, exposure to violence, abuse, and rampant poverty.

Indeed, there is so much work that needs to be done, and a fight for my country's soul and my country's future looms large.

I will take this award as a reminder and a challenge. It is a reminder that victory can be achieved in the midst of such terrible circumstances. But for me and for my party Akbayan, this Silver Rose is also a challenge to do more: to persevere, to organize, to remain committed to the values that define us, to continue speaking truth to power, to find hope amidst despair, and - in the end - to know that victory is within reach.

Thank you for trusting me, ladies and gentlemen, friends and fellow travelers. Please, continue to walk with us.

Thank you and once again, good evening.

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