Meet the 13-Year-Old Girl Speaking Out Against Duterte's Brutal War on Drugs

Catholic School kids are leading the charge against the Philippines own "Punisher."

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Jul 19 2017, 8:48am

Semua foto oleh Veejay Villafranca

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is scheduled to deliver his State of the Nation Address next week. But for Shibby de Guzman and the thousand or so students rallying under the banner #YouthResist, the real "State of the Nation" is far darker than anything Duterte will likely say.

"To the administration and its killing spree, this is the beginning of the end," de Guzman said from the stage at Tuesday's Counter-SONA protest, the first mass rally organized by #YouthResist—a youth activist movement formed only weeks ago.

De Guzman told the crowd that it was time for young people in the Philippines to stand up and speak out against the wave of extrajudicial killings that began when Duterte rose to power a little over one year ago.

More than 7,000 people, many of them poor residents of urban slums, have been killed by police or unknown gunmen. The killings quickly made international headlines, triggering an outpouring of condemnation. Duterte has been accused of mass murder, faced down impeachment attempts, and through it all remained incredibly popular at home.

But not everyone supports Duterte's bloody war on drugs.

De Guzman rose to prominence in the Philippines when a photo of the ninth grader protesting a decision by the Duterte administration to give former dictator Ferdinand Marcos a hero's burial made the rounds online last November. In the photo, the teenager was shouting into a megaphone, rallying a line of young girls from a Manila Catholic school at protest against the Marcos burial.

Duterte's supporters quickly claimed the students were forced to protest by their teachers. One commenter likened these allegations to child abuse. And then de Guzman spoke out. She posted a comment beneath her photo reading, "Hello, I'm the girl in the picture with the megaphone. Please do not underestimate the youth. We completely know and understand the injustices we are protesting against. Thank you."

She's now turned her attentions to Duterte and the flood of fake news and online trolls extolling the virtues of his leadership. With the president's own SONA only days away, de Guzman and the #YouthResist activists took to the streets with their own "counter-SONA" to protest what they expect to be a speech filled with half-truths, profane boasts, and misinformation.

VICE caught up with de Guzman outside the rally.

VICE: Social media blew up when you responded to a post criticizing young people for protesting the decision to give Marcos a hero's burial. What's the worst thing someone said about you online?
Shibby de Guzman:
People noticed my comments against rape jokes, or my advocacy of political correctness. So there was a comment on my post that said I maybe should be raped. I chose to ignore it. What's the point? When someone approaches you aggressively, it's not a conversation. They're just looking to attack you and that's now how you make a change, right?

Social media helped raise awareness of your cause, but you also said it was still important to take it offline. Why? What are the limitations of online activism?
It's important to go offline because we cannot just remain behind the comforts of social media. Social media is definitely a platform for spreading the word, but we can't just stay in the comfort of our homes knowing this is all happening outside. We can't just post about it. We have to go outside, go here and rally.

You're very young and still very idealistic. But movements like this often start strong and then fizzle out and die. What do you say to critics who say that change is impossible? That someone so young could never bring about social change.
We're constantly evolving, so we're always getting better. Or getting worse. But my hope is that we get better. Sure, there's an idealistic future I have in mind, but the most we can do is get as close to that as possible by doing this.

You're standing up against Duterte, who has an 82 percent approval rating. People love him—or at least the vast majority of people do. So why do you dislike him so much?
Well, for one, he's unprofessional. He's also allowing all this injustice to happen under his watch. I know he's not the one out there killing the victims of the drug war. Most of the time it's the police or the vigilantes, but he's allowing it to happen. He knows it's happening. He just gets away with the most unjust things.

And yes, he has an 80 percent approval rating. But that's because people are misinformed. Most of them don't know what's really going on. They think yes, change is coming, crime is down, but it's not down the right way to do it. We should be, I don't know, offering rehabilitation or something to people who are addicted to drugs. But the main cause of this all is poverty. So first you need to eliminate that. You at least need to try, right?

You likened Duterte to Marcos. Why make such a comparison?
Because we believe that Duterte is emerging as a dictator. He's already declared martial law in part of the Philippines. That's how dictatorships start. We're not going to allow that to happen. Never again.

But people say, 'oh she's young, she's never experienced martial law before, let alone Marcos. Why is she opposing it then?'
Yeah, I've never experienced how it is under marital law. That's a given. But that's the point. I'm fighting for people who didn't have a voice. Some people don't have the time and the privilege to study in a school like this, to speak on a stage like that. It's my job to speak for them. They don't have a voice because they've been silenced by this administration.

If you could talk directly to Duterte right now, what would you tell him?
Stop the extrajudicial killings. It's unjust. Listen to the people.

You're against the killings, but Duterte's supporters say they are necessary to lower the crime rate. So what do you say to those who've had a family member or someone they loved killed or raped by a drug addict? What about them? It's easy to sympathize with the families of those who were killed during the drug war. But what about the victims of crime?
It breaks my heart to know that something like that happened to them. But that doesn't make killing drug addicts any more right than what happened to you.

This interview has been edited for context and clarity.

Purple Romero is a multimedia journalist from the Philippines. She writes about human rights, foreign affairs, gender, politics, and the environment. You can follow her at @purpleromeropo.

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