I stepped out of our house in Hertfordshire at 8 o’clock in the evening to buy a bottle of softdrinks. It was still very bright out and usually a walk in any part of Hertfordshire is a welcome break. Except that there were around ten rowdy teenagers spread on both sides of the alley and I had to walk through them to get to the store.
Profanities and obscenities were flying, more when I had passed. I couldn’t look back to see whether they were for me or just a continuation of their crude banter. An English man had overtaken me and appeared to be agitated and saying something. His accent was thick so I couldn’t understand, and my eyes were on the floor to avoid whatever it was in my head I thought was going to happen.
He came nearer to ask me “what’s the matter?” sounding more annoyed. It turned out he had been talking to me, ranting about the behavior of the teenagers and asking me if I’m pleased to be living there. I muttered a few pleasantries and dashed off to the store, stressed and unexplainably fearful.
This was four days after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. This decision has been called Brexit, short for British exit. That walk could have been less stressful; kids will be kids, and I could have easily talked to an adult to complain about kids being kids.
But instead I walked in fear, because ever since the Brexit vote I have been made to feel the way I felt when I was 11 years old and new to this country. That I am not welcome, that I do not belong, and that I am an easy target to bullying.
A Brexit Welcome
I am 25 years old now and has made the choice to leave the Philippines temporarily for a country that I was led to believe values diversity. I figured that I have grown so much more mature from the last time I lived here; I am so much wiser, so much more confident, and so much stronger to try a strange new world.
Instead I am welcomed back to England with a 57% increase in hate crimes, with clips not only of foreigners but also of UK citizens of foreign descent being harassed in the streets or inside the bus and being told to “go back home.”
Newly-elected London Mayor Sadiq Khan, a Muslim and an advocate to remain in the EU, said in a media interview: “My worry is that it has legitimized bad behavior, people now think it’s okay to call people names.” He has since come out against xenophobia and Islamophobia and assured “communities feeling vulnerable that they are safe here and that they are welcome here.”
On the day I landed in England I had a conversation with an elder British woman who cited the increase in robbery cases in their area to the free movement of EU nationals inside the UK.
Before the day ended it had become clear to me that immigration was a significant part of wanting to leave the European Union, with Brits thinking that European Nationals are robbing them off of not just jobs but also of privileges like benefits.
Of course there is no limit to misinformation such as an English man declaring, “It’s about stopping Muslims from getting into this country, the movement of people in Europe fair enough, but not from Africa, Syria, Iraq and everywhere else, it’s wrong,” when there is no free movement for people “from everywhere else” in the UK.
For EU nationals, it has been reminded repeatedly that a Brexit would not control movement, because to limit migration into the UK would mean that the UK would also have to let go of free trade, which it wouldn’t in a million years. In fact, the Leave Campaign and its supporters cite “to have a freer trade” as one of the reasons for leaving the EU.
The disconnect of the principles for Brexit and its divisive consequences are an eerie ricochet of what I left behind in the Philippines.
Duterte versus Journalists
The last memory of our newsroom in Manila that sears on my brain is the late night press conference of President Rodrigo Duterte pronouncing to “stop journalism in this country” and warning the press: “do not fuck with me.” It would be his last press conference. He has since declined interviews and banned media from public events including his inauguration on June 30.
It was a surreal hour listening to the most powerful man in the country threaten the fourth estate, but nothing compares to the distress of listening to the wired collective voice of the majority in the country not only agreeing that journalists are lowlives, but proclaiming their takeover of gatekeeping and agenda-setting.
“Media ni Duterte” is what they call themselves, and from now on they will be the journalists.
My apprehensions notwithstanding I am part of a generation that empowers citizen journalism, but allow me to withdraw my support when the so-called citizenry espouses the kind of disconnect that has divided the nation.
During the campaign I have observed that many Duterte supporters are confused. They want to kill criminals, which Duterte approves of, but they also want to kill Muslim and communist rebels, which Duterte is against.
They cheer on the King of Jordan bombing an ISIS turf and are convinced that their anointed leader will do the same to Mindanao, when Duterte is a Mindanaoan who wants to negotiate. “Muslims suffered an injustice,” he said, and went on to explain that he would no longer waste taxpayers money and government resources for bullets and cannons in fighting “revolutionaries that we cannot defeat.”
Some Duterte supporters are also very much in favor of making a real enemy out of China, but would call any news organization “biased” for reporting that Duterte is ready to make deals with the Chinese, when it was always clear in the Duterte campaign that a reversal to bilateral talks is very much being considered by the President.
Another problem with both the Brexit and the Duterte votes, apart from the disconnect, is that there is an abstraction; of seeing only the ‘good’ and ignoring all the bad, making justifications for them even.
There was one Filipino I talked to who was eligible to vote in the referendum who voted to leave the EU. Her reason was also immigration, but she had an interesting take. She didn’t like that EU nationals could freely enter the UK with all the privileges whilst everybody else, including and especially Filipinos, have a difficulty getting jobs in the UK that they are fully qualified for.
She meant well for her fellow Filipinos but I believe that it’s also a form of racism, a reverse discrimination towards European races by assuming they do not deserve to enjoy such rights, when this is their home we are talking about.
She told me she now regrets that vote, knowing there is not going to be a significant amendment to the free movement. Leave Camp’s spokesperson Daniel Hannan said: “People watching think that they have voted and there is now going to be zero immigration from the EU, they are going to be disappointed.”
Like me, fear has seeped into her consciousness, paranoid that she may become the next victim of racism. But she has to live with that vote and so do everybody else. But that doesn’t mean we can’t charge accountability, even from our own choices.
Now we watch over the promises made, and those that are going to be broken if we don’t keep an eye on the men we trusted.
Aside from immigration, the Leave Campaign was also quick to backtrack on its pledge that there would be an additional £350M per week to the National Health Service (NHS). “I would have never made that claim, that was one of the mistakes the Leave Campaign made,” Nigel Farage, lead of the campaign, said on the morning of the Brexit victory.
It has to be noted that this claim has long been refuted by the International Monetary Fund and every credible economic agencies in UK and in Europe, but the only response to them from the Leave Camp was, “we have to stop trusting experts.”
In the Philippines, from killing crime and drugs in 6 months, Duterte has tempered his rhetoric and said he was only going to “suppress” crime and drugs in 6 months. He also promised to give the cabinet positions of the Departments of Agrarian Reform, Environment, Labor and Social Welfare to the left. But he recently gave DENR to Gina Lopez of the influential Lopez clan who owns a conglomerate of business.
And most notably, he harped during the campaign season to abolish contractualization. His Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez reiterated such promise this month, but with an important caveat: Duterte is going to eliminate “endo” but not for short-term jobs.
What are short-term jobs, by their definition? TV shows, seasonal jobs like harvesting, and even mall chains which, according to them, need additional workers during peak season like Christmas. Labor advocates, and practically all workers who experience it, would tell you that the 5-5-5 scheme, which Duterte vows to quash, where workers are fired and rehired to avoid being made permanent and entitled to benefits, is the same scheme employed in this so-called “short term jobs.”
Why the categorical promise? We can take a guess. Duterte’s Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said, “the business sector has nothing to worry about and that regulations will both be strict and equitable.”
And of course there is the abstraction for catcalls, rape remarks and disregard of women’s denunciation by reducing them to false feminism. Even worse, these are not only ignored, but encouraged, and parroted through male chauvinism and other sexist sneers.
Mass versus Elite
When gender politics is taken out, it becomes a clash between the mass and the elite. There is smart shaming, and suddenly education becomes a target on your back.
“E ‘di ikaw na matalino. E ‘di ikaw na magaling mag-English. E ‘di ikaw na nag-research,” his supporters would say to shoot down the critics. (“Well then, you’re the smart one. Well then, you already have English proficiency. Or well then, you’re well-researched one.”)
“The lesson, in other words, is that whether you’re using new media or old, it is easier than ever to articulate your own version of the truth, especially if it plays on the fears of the kinds of voters at whom the university-educated sophisticates in the big cities sneer,” writes Robert Colvile of the Columbia Journalism Review. He was writing about Brexit but could have as easily described the current division in the Philippines.
So it was a bleak Friday morning for me last week, realizing that the feud I had wanted a breather from in my own country had followed me to the next, except here I do not have to express my opinion to earn the ire of the majority, I only have to look myself.
The kind of stress that brings is both a feeling of defeat as it is of shock that we still have to experience this in 2016, when we’ve already had an African-American President of the United States, a Muslim Mayor of London, and the first Philippine President to come from Mindanao.
It makes the leaps we’re making feel like a fluke, because there is increasing evidence that we’re just stuck in an endless cycle of moving forward and backtracking, never managing to escape an apparently universal prejudicial culture.
There is an indescribable terror too in having to document that culture in Asia and be made witness to a rebirth of it in Europe, like you’re running out of safe places, that no matter where you go to in the world, a culture of hate trails you.
We have had many moments of victory in our time, and we have celebrated them, whether quietly and grandly, but a setback merits it own moment too.
For us to quiet down and breathe and take it all in; contemplate the kind of people we have become, and what our collective societies have turned into, before we gather our bearings, and search through our broken spirits the strength that it will take to fight back and redeem what was once good about being a citizen of this world.
[Entry 152, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Lian Nami Buan is the Managing Director and the European Bureau Chief of SubSelfie.com. She also leads the #SubStory and #TanawMindanao segments of the website. She was a news producer for GMA News for six years before she moved to England to take up her Masters in Digital Journalism at the Goldsmiths, University of London. She wants to shift focus to human rights, particularly indigenous people, women and migration. Whenever she has money, she travels to collect feelings for writing material. Journalism 2010, UST. Read more of her articles here.