With the recently presented «Profile» program, Germany’s «Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen» put a spotlight on Filipino visual artist, filmmaker, and human rights activist Kiri Dalena. Here, Modern Times Review sat down with the renowned transmedial artist. Also read – Looking at the Philippines today: Survey and Resistance
Have you ever thought about leaving your country
My situation is not so bad that I am compelled to leave for economic reasons, which is the case with the millions of Filipinos who leave to become workers overseas. My situation is also very far from that of political personalities and high-profile activists who face grave threats and attacks on their lives and reputations. When I am in a different country and I see that the rule of law operates and that everyone possesses the opportunity to build decent and meaningful lives, I grow sad for my country. But, at the same time, it is an inspiration, I see that it is possible to live differently. So while it is still beyond my imagination to see how we can turn our conditions around, given that at present what is right is wrong, and what is wrong appears to be right, I tell myself that there has to be a reason why I was born there and not anywhere else.
Who is especially under attack?
Human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, judges. Those who file complaints against the government, specifically against those who abuse their power, or rather those who repeatedly and systematically commit abuse because they have power. Those who speak up against the erosion of democratic processes and institutions in our country. Those who take the side of the vilified and demonized sectors of our society who are most vulnerable to extermination and exploitation.
When I am in a different country and I see that the rule of law operates…I grow sad for my country.
What can be done?
If we speak specifically about the «drug war», we need to have an evidence-based dialogue and education campaign in the communities, in the grassroots. People who remain quiet should not look away just because it is not happening to their families. Those who accept and welcome the «drug war» narrative need to be informed and understand that killing and executions will never be the solution to the drug problem. While I continue to believe that drug use and addiction is not the root of poverty and criminality in communities, we need to examine the real reasons why drug consumption, specifically of crystal meth, exists in the first place. Drug users should not be deprived of their human rights and drug abuse should be handled as a health rather than a criminal problem. We artists should not isolate ourselves when examining this issue and assessing what needs to be done. We need to connect with academics, researchers, doctors, lawmakers, civil society, and also look towards other societies that have faced or are facing similar conditions. Find out the best and most humane practices and alternatives on an international level and see what we can learn and apply in our own country.
What is the reason for president Duterte’s popularity?
In my opinion, Duterte, a city mayor, emerged as a politician to Contend with on a national level because he came at the right time. The desperate situation of the masses has not been thoroughly addressed and resolved by the previous governments. Duterte introduced himself as someone who is different from the previous presidents who were from families of powerful landlords and oligarchies; he distanced himself from the ruling class and presented himself as an alternative. His campaign was to end criminality, and he built a narrative wherein drug use and abuse became a central and urgent problem which needed to be eliminated to truly effect change, even if it meant killing millions who stood in his way. I suppose Filipinos were truly desperate to believe in someone and something, and in this case that became Duterte. But sadly, for those who do not realize it yet, this will never be the path to real change.
We artists should not isolate ourselves
What can be done on the level of international relations?
The Duterte government’s widespread and systematic dismissal of what should be inalienable and universal rights and its descent into dictatorial rule should be condemned by other governments and international groups who have a concern not just for the Philippines but for humanity as a whole. Specific to the anti-drug campaign, evidence-based, and scientific and humane strategies to approach drug use and abuse problems should be taken on. A «drug war» approach will never succeed. The work and advocacy of human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, religious and civil society leaders are critical and should be defended. Also, the families and children of the killed and incarcerated should be cared for and protected. Various groups including Church-based organizations have been giving support, but it is still not sufficient given that we are faced with an overwhelming number of victims. I fear for our future, but at the same time would like to take this as an opportunity for Filipinos and the world to once more come together to collectively right a wrong.
What is hope for you?
Hope is the resolve to remain steadfast in defending what our fathers, mothers, and forefathers have devoted and given their lives to so that we can have better futures. It is still knowing what it means to be human and humane even if you may appear to belong to a very vulnerable minority.