By SHERWIN DE VERA
BAGUIO CITY — Almost three months after the attempt on his life, American journalist and human rights activist Brandon Lee safely landed on United States soil on the early morning of October 26, San Francisco time (the Philippines is 15 hours ahead).
His mother, Louise, accompanied him in the 20-hour flight on board an air ambulance. Friends and family welcomed the Sunset District native at the airport. The same group followed them at the hospital to express their support.
Reverend Sadie Stone, Global Deputy Secretary of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP), said that they were at the same spot ten weeks ago, “for a different kind of press conference.” It was the day they spoke with media about the murder attempt on Brandon and asked for support to keep him safe and bring him home. She recalled this at the homecoming press conference and rally on the steps of city hall on October 28
“We were here with tears in our eyes, and unknown information, and unknown future what was coming next. And in the weeks that followed, the family and the friends, the supervisors, and the public officials of this city have rallied together to support Brandon and to bring him home,” the pastor said.
Speakers at the rally expressed gratitude to all those who assisted Brandon and his family during the ordeal.
Brandon is married to a Filipino and a permanent resident of the Philippines. He is living with his wife and seven-year-old daughter in Lagawe, Ifugao.
On August 6, assassins shot him four times in front of his house. His family and colleagues said the military is behind the attack. He served as the provincial correspondent of Northern Dispatch for Ifugao since 2010. It was also around the same year that he became a paralegal volunteer for the Ifugao Peasant Movement (IPM).
San Francisco Board of Supervisors District 4 representative Gordon Mar said that the outcome was the result of the “incredible organizing efforts of Brandon’s family and friend.”
According to him, Brandon is the first US citizen that fell victim to the extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration. He noted that before the August 6 attack, Brandon was already the subject to threat and harassments by government forces for his advocacy on indigenous peoples’ rights and the environment.
In a Facebook post day before the press conference, he stressed, “Brandon is here back in San Francisco because of his strength, and the strength of the community and movement that lifted him up and the power of his example over the past three months.”
“I’m so, so glad to have Brandon back—but we’re not done yet. An outpouring of love and support moved mountains to make this transport happen, but we have mountains yet to move. There’s a way to go still to cover the costs of Brandon’s care and much more to be done to address the underlying injustices that led to his attack,” he added.
Another member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Matt Haney, spoke in the gathering. He described Brandon as “someone who believes in and fought for the power of the people.”
“He went to the Philippines to stand with indigenous peoples there, to fight for their rights to stand up for their land, and so it is especially powerful that we stand here welcoming him home because of people power,” he said.
He noted the coming together of different groups and the San Francisco community and its elected officials “to stand up for one of our own, one of our heroes” showed the power of a united people.
“As we look forward and appreciate and think about everything that has been done we also look forward in the next steps to make sure that Brandon’s perpetrators are brought to justice, to make sure the human rights crisis and the targeted assassinations in the Philippines come to an end,” he said.
Haney also underscored the need to address the US military aid to the Philippines that facilitates human rights abuses and continued support for Brandon and his family.
“He is so courageous and has inspired many of us, and his courage and journey continues, and I know he wants us to be fighting with him and for him so he can be back out there and stand with the people once again,” he added.
Targeted by state forces
Years before the attack, police, and military tagged him multiple times as a supporter of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army. He also experienced harassments and surveillance for working with indigenous peoples against environmentally destructive projects.
Just before the attack, Brandon even sent a message to a nun they were working with that state agents tailed him from the IPM office to his house.
In-laws of Brandon took him immediately to a local hospital after the shooting but later on transferred to a bigger hospital in the neighboring province of Nueva Vizcaya. Within the night, they brought him to Baguio General Hospital (BGH), which is more equipped to deal with his severe injuries.
While at BGH, Brandon and his family experienced constant surveillance and vilification by suspected Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) operatives. As a security measure, his family and colleagues decided to transfer him to St. Lukes Hospital in Taguig City secretly. While the doctors stabilize his condition, family and friends raised funds for medical transport to the US.
The cost of his medical transport was P8.37 million (US$164,000). The family paid the service from a loan and donations. # nordis.net / with report from Raymund B. Villanueva/Kodao