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An open letter to the wife, family, and friends of Brandon Lee

Our warmest solidarity greetings to all those who gave their support (moral, material and financial) to the family of Brandon in these times of great tribulation.

Amid beeping life supports, bloodshot eyes from constant crying, endless questions from all over, the uncertainty of tomorrow, how long will you hang on? A month has passed, but an assurance of life has yet to come. You may be overwhelmed with a lot of emotions, but you choose to numb them to focus on the goal of holding on to the lifeline, one day at a time.

You may have asked yourself for the nth time, why? Why him? Why Brandon Lee when all he did was help farmers and indigenous peoples assert their rights. All he did was choose a life where he can pursue his passion for advocating the human rights of those in the margins. Brandon knew for a fact that asserting human rights in the Philippines is dangerous, but he still stood to uphold this because he believes it was the right thing to do.

A month ago, on August 6, Brandon was shot in his home in Ifugao and sustained several gunshot wounds. While being rushed to the hospital, he shouted several times, loudly saying that it was the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that was responsible for this barbaric act. And while Brandon was fighting for dear life, the AFP concocted lies and spread intrigues that his colleagues committed the attempt on his life. Preposterous! We know that you had to summon more courage to speak to the media and reiterate what Brandon said, that state forces were involved in this attempt on his life.

AFP has the strongest motive. Years before the incident, Brandon and his colleagues were already in danger from frequent threats of the AFP. Threats directed against indigenous people’s rights defenders that continue their advocacy for the rights of the people of Ifugao.

You might have been asking so many times why Brandon chose the work he does. Brandon, for sure, can answer these questions better than we could. But we want you to know that the communities he and his colleagues helped empower are now also able to become aware of their rights and stand up for them. These are but reflections of his passion and commitment to serve them.

We know your utmost concern at this point is to secure Brandon and to save his life. Yes, that is a reasonable and the most prudent decision at this time. His colleagues may have stepped back, but this does not mean that they have backed down from the fight. We can always retreat to hold on the lifeline and gain more strength to persevere in challenging the situation that pushes poor people further in the margins and kills those who fight back.

In the face of tyranny, fear is always a reality. Yes, the tyrant can sow fear among those who dare to challenge injustice. The attempt on the life of Brandon is to sow fear and to silence indigenous communities of Ifugao fighting against a corporate-led hydroelectric project and his colleagues in the Cordillera peoples’ mass movement. But we overcome our fear because we see the unending show of support and solidarity from around the country and abroad. We are not alone. It is in these times that we need to care for one another and collectively cut the threads of fear seeping into us.

Our perseverance and unending solidarity freed Rachel Mariano, an Ibaloi activist development worker who languished in jail for almost a year for trumped-up charges of murder and frustrated murder. The court ruled that the cases filed by the AFP are baseless so, she was acquitted of the allegations last September 4, 2019.

Rachel’s acquittal is an initial victory as other women human rights defenders in the Cordillera are still facing trumped-up cases, and other indigenous peoples’ human rights defenders are still in jail. We can replicate this victory should we all cast away our trepidations and collectively push forward. It is also in this way that we can achieve justice for Brandon and all other victims of state instigated attacks. It may sound cliché’, but, we believe that through our collective strength, persistent actions, amplified by advocates across the globe will give birth to a truly free, democratic, and just society that upholds indigenous peoples and women human rights.

To Bernice, Brandon’s spouse; to Jessie, his daughter; to Louise, his mother; and to Aaron, his brother, may you find strength and courage to hold on and continue caring for Brandon as we continue to seek justice for the atrocious act committed by the evil forces in our midst. We salute you for your firmness and determination. May it bring comfort knowing that elders, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons whose lives Brandon has touched and inspired will rise and rage not only to demand justice for him but to continue the noble cause he passionately pursued.

Kasiyana, we shall overcome!