London- It was an honour to attend the celebration of World Press Freedom Day at the United Nations in Vienna on 3rd May 2023. When I was invited as the keynote speaker by Miss Marizel Rojas, I got very excited indeed but at the same time, nervous. It got me thinking, “what can I say? I am an immigration and family solicitor.” But I do have something to say. After all, I advocate migrants and Filipino women’s rights and have worked closely with journalists in the UK to achieve these goals. I am a solicitor, writer, presenter and legal adviser for digital programme Juan Eu Konek.
The theme “shaping a future of rights: freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights” I believe highlights the important role that freedom of expression plays in promoting and protecting human rights.
As a solicitor specializing in immigration and family law, I have listened to the struggles of victims of domestic violence, domestic servitude, and human trafficking. Among these victims are the brave and resilient Filipino women who have been subjected to various forms of abuse and exploitation. But despite the many challenges that they face, these women refuse to remain silent. They have found their voices and are speaking up, demanding justice and equality. And it is through the power of the press that their stories are being heard.
Just in March this year, the Filipino Women’s Association-UK held an event to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) with the theme “Constructing the Filipino Woman in Britain: towards Agency and Empowerment”. One of the speakers at the IWD celebration was a woman who is a domestic violence survivor. She bravely narrated her story about meeting her ex-partner on an online dating site. When she arrived in the UK, her ex-partner exploited her. She became a victim of human trafficking. She wanted her story to be heard, and she used the FWA-UK event as her platform to highlight her plight as a victim of domestic violence. The IWD event was covered by ABS-CBN, the Filipino Channel and Juan Eu Konek on social media. Indeed, the media serve as a powerful tool for raising awareness and educating the public about the plight of these women. Through their reporting, they shed light on the injustices that they face and the hardships that they endure. They give a powerful voice to the voiceless and empower them to seek justice and change.
I shared the works of Juan Eu Konek. From September 2020 to March 2021, Juan Eu Konek produced “Kontra Corona,” a series of six part-documentaries telling the story of how Covid-19 affected the Filipino community in the UK and Europe, highlighting the crucial role Filipino front liners have played in the battle, including those who have sadly lost their lives and those who have survived and continue to put themselves at risk while performing their duties. It is perhaps the first and only video documentation of its kind, emanating from the Filipino diaspora in the UK and Europe, with a team composed of embedded documentarians.
The documentaries were distilled into two hours of film which premiered in London and in Wales. These film-showing events were a celebration of the Filipino community’s resilience and a time to reflect on the journey that everyone has gone through, as well as an opportunity to honour those who have paid the ultimate price to pave the way for a brighter tomorrow.
The project was awarded “Best Documentary Film” at the Migration Advocacy and Media (MAM) Awards in Manila in 2021. Journalism made sure that this historic and inspiring chapter in the Filipino community’s journey will never be forgotten.
I emphasized the power of journalism as a way to not just highlight injustice, not just document events, but as a weapon in the fight for Human Rights. From a personal perspective I was reminded of a case that myself and my husband were instructed in from a few years ago. A Filipino woman was being asked to leave the UK with her British husband. At first the case did not look extraordinary, as the UK’s immigration laws require exceptional circumstances to regularise the position of an overstayer, even if married to a British national. My client had applied but was refused. She reached out to the Press with my husband Christopher Dias (also an immigration lawyer) giving a damning quote on the lack of compassion in the decision to relocate the family. The input of the Press was remarkable, as they refocussed the case from one of Filipina vs Government to her husband’s perspective of Retired Soldier (who sacrificed his health for the Country) vs Big Brother Government Department. The case was noticed by the public, and within a week the Home Office reversed the decision, and she was granted a visa. The power of journalism in challenging and changing the status quo.
To conclude, I say this: continue to speak out and demand justice. Know that you are not alone in your struggles, and that the power of the press is behind you. Together, we can create a better world, a world where everyone’s rights are respected, and where justice and equality prevail.
Thank you Marizel Rojas of United Nations Correspondents Association Vienna (UNCAV) and European Network of Filipino Diaspora -Austria for this wonderful opportunity.