Hearing news of the Philippine government’s attempts to silence its critics, United States-based Filipino Enzo Manzano, 25, took to the streets to protest — alone. For three hours, he stood before the United Nations Headquarters in New York holding up a poster denouncing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. With every member nation’s flag waving behind him, Enzo streamed the solo demonstration live on Facebook.
“Duterte & the Philippine gov’t are taking away my people’s basic rights!” his sign read in large black letters. “Filipinos can’t protest… so I hope the world can see us instead!”
Enzo is the son of Edu Manzano, a Filipino actor who once ran for vice president.
He said that he has long held grievances against the Duterte administration and has posted about it on Facebook, but found them ineffective in getting his point across. His close friends know his political stance, but he was never very outspoken.
Enzo said that heading outside to protest before the UN Headquarters — especially alone — was never on his radar. But after living in the U.S. for two and a half years, something suddenly clicked.
“There are so many things happening in the Philippines which I never imagined happening in my time there, Enzo told VICE. “It’s becoming a country that I didn’t grow up in. It's starting to feel so foreign to me.”
He was referring to recent political developments in the Philippines, which he described as “a democracy that’s dying.”
In the past weeks, Filipinos have been protesting against an anti-terrorism bill that could allow the government to charge its critics as terrorists. Many also see the recent conviction of veteran journalist Maria Ressa under cyber libel charges as politically motivated and a blow to press freedom. A moment of clarity came to Enzo while watching A Thousand Cuts, a documentary about Ressa. He saw a pattern: a suppression of dissent, followed by fear among citizens that the government will go after those who speak out.
“It got to a point where, honestly, I felt very, very useless,” he said. Understanding he was lucky to be in a place where he could protest freely, Enzo created the poster and headed to the UN building.
The live protest itself was pretty quiet. Some passersby asked questions and a few took pictures, but the pandemic had emptied out New York's streets. Protesting from 4:30 to 7:30 PM on the East Coast — 12 hours behind Philippine Standard Time — also meant that most of his Filipino friends on Facebook were fast asleep.
The real reactions came in the hours that followed, when the Philippines woke up and noticed his small act of resistance. Thousands liked and shared his post, leaving behind supportive comments.
But Enzo is not looking for support personally. “What I am doing is supporting them,” he said, referring to all those in the Philippines speaking out against the administration's wrongdoings.
He was thinking about things like the Ressa verdict, and how, on the eve of Philippine Independence Day, the Justice Secretary banned mass gatherings, including protest rallies, citing coronavirus concerns. (Although that didn’t necessarily stop Filipinos.)
“I don’t know what I was waiting for all these years. Or at the same time, I don’t know what anyone else is waiting for,” he said. “I just had to go out there and do something.”
It’s only one person’s small act of resistance, but Enzo hopes that what he did can inspire others to take a stand.
He told his fellow Filipinos: “The fight is not over, and there are millions and millions of Filipinos outside of the country [supporting you].”