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When I first came to the Philippines three years ago I thought it would be a great idea to blog about the issues I was witnessing here. Typhoon Yolanda had just happened and there was a lot of talk about the misappropriation of foreign aid so I really wanted to report back to my friends in Australia to give them an idea on what was happening. It was completely naive of me because I wasn’t even engaging in any form of activism in Australia and suddenly I wanted to ‘meddle’ in the operations of another country?
One of my Filipino friends quickly advised me to stop and if I had any inflammatory material on the blog I should delete it immediately. He told me that when you are on a tourist visa in another country you are not at liberty to act in any journalist-type role, and you certainly don’t have the right to criticise the government (after all you are supposed to be on vacation). He made it very clear that if I continued I could possibly be deported and never allowed back to the Philippines.
When you live in a country like Australia you don’t question your right to challenge government policy and decisions, so at the time I didn’t really think it was that big-a-deal. But reading about Otto Warmbier these past few days has been so incredibly sad because truly that could have been me or any of us. We take our freedom of speech and expression so much for granted we don’t realise the magnitude of our actions in overseas countries and the perception by officials of foreign cultures. Three years later I am glad I listened, because at the time I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and the magnitude of the consequences.
— Leonardo DiCaprio (@LeoDiCaprio) March 29, 2016
Even celebrities like Leonard DiCaprio and Harrison Ford have upset foreign governments when travelling abroad on tourist visas. Both actors have been threatened with deportation from Indonesia and permanent travel bans in the past three years. It is really difficult to stand back and say nothing when you are surrounded by intense pollution and environmental devastation and the local people don’t seem to understand the global impact of their actions.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while now you will know I try to capture the essence of my life living between two countries. The only way I can be here in the Philippines and care for Jerry is on a tourist visa, so with that in mind I try not to step over the line when posting content. I try to focus on what is beautiful (and the Philippines is very beautiful) and to represent the plight of impoverished Filipinos and their day-to-day lives in a way that might inspire overseas readers to take action on balancing wealth inequality.
My heart goes out to the family of Otto Warmbie who’s life was lost because of what was probably a lark or a silly dare. Let’s not take our freedoms for granted and look to a world where everyone can access basic human rights.
© 2017 Melinda J. Irvine
Your words are right. I couldn’t have said it better myself!
Thanks Meri, it was quite emotional writing that. m.
thanks Meri, it was very emotional writing that post. m.