A number of years ago Brandon Lee, a Chinese-American, moved to the Philippines to support the peoples’ struggles there. He became a human rights activist working with the indigenous people in the Philippines as they struggle against displacement. The corrupt Filipino government and its imperialist sponsors are waging an all-out war against the people, and driving the indigenous people off their land to open it up for loot by multi-national corporations. In this war the government had their thugs shoot Brandon in the head, but despite this he lived and is recovering. Brandon’s commitment to the people is great example of working class internationalism.
On August 7 in the Philippines province of Ifugao, Brandon Lee, a Chinese-American activist who grew up in San Francisco was shot in the head four times by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. This shooting was a retaliation for Brandon’s work in service of indigenous people, referred to as Lumad, a term encompassing several indigenous ethnic and linguistic groups in the country. The shooting of Lee, who was a reporter and human rights activist, is part of a larger efforts of government intimidation against activists. Now weeks after the shooting, Lee is still alive, but in critical condition. He suffered over eight heart attacks in operations to save his life in the days following the attack.
In recent weeks, a struggle has taken place to defend Lee’s life from further attacks, and a related campaign has developed in the United States to bring attention to Lee’s plight. This has included protests in the Bay Area in front of San Francisco’s City Hall and in New York City in front of the Filipino Consulate, as well as demands to U.S. government offices that Lee’s case not be ignored.
A recent fact-finding mission from the U.S. traveled to the Philippines to investigate the shooting. On the trip were San Francisco Supervisor (a position in local city government) Matt Haney, and Raquel Redondiez, a member of the San Francisco Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines. Redondiez stated that “throughout the Philippines, what we’ve heard is that where there are communities organizing and resisting the president’s ‘build, build, build and kill, kill, kill’ development policy, the military is deployed against them to harass them, to intimidate them and even to forcibly evacuate communities from their ancestral domains.”
At an August protest on behalf of Lee in front of the Philippines Consulate in New York City, an activist told those gathered that “Brandon Lee is a modern day Norman Bethune.” This was a reference to the Canadian doctor and surgeon who volunteered in both the Spanish Civil War against fascism and the Chinese War of Resistance against the Japanese Fascist invasion.
Doctor Bethune lost his own life in China in 1939 during his selfless efforts to save the lives of Chinese soldiers wounded on the battlefield. The comparison to Bethune at the NYC protest was particularly apt. Bethune spent much of his life in Canada and the United States, countries which in the early 20th century supported the colonial and right-wing policies and alliances that resulted in devastation in China and Spain.
Norman Bethune operates on a member of the People’s Liberation Army during the War of Resistance Against Japan.
Despite the negative role of these respective governments, people in the U.S. and Canada, such as Bethune, saw the need to oppose their “own” ruling classes and instead support the struggles of the people internationally. So too with Lee, who came from the United States. The U.S. in particular has a very long history of oppressing of the Filipino people. Before 1898 the Philippines was a Spanish colony for around 350 years. The Spanish rule was very brutal, and a number of rebellions were brutally crushed. Then in 1898 the United States declared war on Spain under the pretext that Spain had bombed a U.S. ship in Havana, Cuba, which was then also a Spanish colony. It turned out later that the explosion onboard the ship in question, the USS Maine, was due to a boiler malfunction and didn’t have to do with Spain, but at that point the war had already started.
At the time the U.S. was an expanding power which desperately wanted colonies of its own. The U.S. elite needed to get access to new markets and resources to keep expanding their industrial operations and to keep making more profits. They realized that Spain’s hold over it’s colonies was relatively weak, and when the pretext of the USS Maine came along they seized on it to declare war on Spain in order to seize control of Spanish colonies. At the end of the war Cuba became a U.S. client state and the U.S. got direct control of the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico. The people in all of these places were not consulted about this, and the change meant nothing but a change in which colonial overlord was oppressing and exploiting them.
After World War II the Philippines became an independent country, but the U.S. did not let the country escape from its grasp. For decades The U.S. worked to keep the Filipino people under its thumb by supporting dictators who sold out the country to U.S. business interests. These rulers have looted the country and committed brutal atrocities against the people to maintain their rule.
Brandon (in front in the red cap) with his Filipino friends at San Francisco State University, where he joined the League of Filipino Students.
It’s important to remember that Lee is not just an American, but a Chinese-American. In recent years China has maneuvered to make large parts of the Philippines its effective neocolony, and has used military force to seize fishing waters and islands off of the Philippines coast, even claiming the entire South Sea as Chinese waters. As a student in San Francisco State College, Lee joined the League of Filipino Students chapter despite not being ethnically Filipino. Lee’s actions over the course of years underscores the basic point that the struggles of oppressed peoples transcend borders, and that the actions of powerful nation states do not represent the interests of the people.
During a speech at the rally, Lee’s friend stated that Lee wanted to move to the Philippines about ten years ago to support the struggles of the indigenous people there. And that was exactly what he did. In the years since he also married and had a young daughter in the country. His daughter was in the house at the time Lee was shot.
While it is unclear if Duterte’s government will face any repercussions for attempting to murder an American citizen, several U.S. government officials have said they are looking into the matter. “It is shameful that a U.S. citizen is out there in this situation currently under threat, and not being fully protected by the Philippines government or let alone adequately by the American government,” San Francisco Supervisor Haney said. Haney’s district includes many Filipino-Americans.
A representative of Congressional House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office said they were aware of Lee’s situation in the Philippines and that they have been in contact with Lee’s family, the U.S. Embassy, and the U.S. Department of State. Lee’s family is pushing to have Brandon airlifted out the Philippines by the U.S. government. While they do not trust the U.S. state, they feel that it has a responsibility to protect Brandon from further assassination attempts.
Raquel Redondiez stated, “I think there’s definitely, you know, private concerns expressed to family members at meetings with congressional offices, but what—the U.S. Embassy response was actually to contact the Philippine National Police to provide protection at the hospital, which was not welcomed by Brandon’s family and colleagues, who do believe that the Philippine National Police has been part of the harassment and the intimidation that Brandon and his colleagues have been experiencing the last several years.” To underscore the point, Haney stated, “He [Brandon Lee] has no doubt that this was the Philippine Army that targeted him.”
A protest outside the San Fransisco City Hall against the attack on Brandon Lee.
Many indigenous people have resisted the Duterte government’s increasingly aggressive efforts to drive them off their land and open the area up for mining and dam projects sponsored by foreign companies. Last year the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, threatened to bomb indigenous schools for their role in educating people about local struggles. He stated “I’ll really have those [schools] bombed…because you are operating illegally and you are teaching the children to rebel against government.”
Last year Lee expressed his concerns about threats in an interview, stating “I’m a volunteer at the Ifugao Peasant Movement, IPM. For us, we have been harassed, intimidated, threatened with death threats, vilified, red-tagged, under surveillance constantly since 2010. A lot of it has to do with us defending the land, life and resources of the indigenous peoples here in Ifugao.”
The same day Lee was shot, Philippines Army personnel visited the homes of several other activists, who happened to not be there of the time, leading people to believe they could have been shot as well. Shortly before he was shot, Lee was labeled as “an enemy of the state” on social media.
In addition to these threats against indigenous peoples and those involved in their struggle, the Duterte regime has carried out a widespread campaign of terror against people across the country. After being elected as President, Duterte—despite being known as a prominent drug lord—started a massive “War on Drugs.” He used this campaign to reign terror on the people and eliminate rival drug gangs. He also sponsored vigilante-style killings of people across the country. At least 40,000 people have been murdered in the streets in this “drug war” which is more accurately described as a war on the poor.
Redondiez stated, “We met with some of the folks from the ‘nightcrawlers,’ which are photojournalists who go and take photos of these extrajudicial killings. And they told us that these are so common that now their editors are telling them that they can’t even cover them anymore, because they need a new angle, because these are happening so often that it’s not even news anymore. And this particular journalist told us that the only thing that has changed is where they’re dumping the bodies and how they’re lying about it.”
Lee decided to go into this dangerous environment and stand with the people of the Philippines. He went and lived among the people, helping out with their daily struggles and making them his own. This represents a serious break with the dominant values of our society, where we are constantly encouraged to value the lives of other Americans more than those of other people around the world. This reactionary “America First” ideology is drummed into us constantly from the time we are very young, in school and in the media. We are constantly bombarded with the idea that the U.S. is the greatest place on earth, and that it isn’t important to pay attention to or really care about what is going on elsewhere.
A protest in support of Brandon Lee in front of the Philippines Consulate in NYC.
Constantly being exposed to this type of worldview has a real effect on how people living in the U.S. think of and relate to people living in other countries. To adopt a revolutionary and proletarian internationalist outlook we have to struggle against this and other forms of U.S. chauvinism. Brandon Lee provides a shining example for all of us here of what proletarian internationalism is all about. His commitment to the struggle of the Filipino people against American and Chinese imperialism and against the corrupt and pro-imperialist Filipino government was so deep that he went to the Philippines and joined in their struggles.
We should all learn from his commitment to the people. Proletarian internationalism means adopting the struggles for liberation of all the people of the world as our own. It means supporting their victories and mourning their defeats as our own. The different struggles around the world form a part of a much larger historical struggle which we’re engaged in: the struggle to liberate humanity from class society and establish Communism world-wide. Brandon Lee made a deep commitment to this struggle when he went to join and support the struggle of the Filipino people. Now we need to both support and defend his life as we learn from his spirit of self-sacrifice and his love for the people.
Defend Brandon Lee!
Down with Duterte’s war on the poor!