Humanitourism – Travels of a human rights worker

Filipinos are very proud of the exquisite travel destinations their country has to offer, and rightly so. The country is surely one of the richest in the world when it comes to places to see. Except experiencing the beach life on white, black, or pink sand, you can go camping at isolated paradise islands, see 2,000-year-old rice terraces, witness wildlife found nowhere else on the planet, visit the volcano inside a volcano, and so on, and so on.

It’s no wonder the people in here – be it locals, expats or tourists – love to talk about and compare the beauty of the “must-sees” of the country, and as a newbie here I am expected to be extremely interested in this topic – however, I’m usually not. When the others sense this, they get worried. Worried that I’m still unaware of how amazing the Philippines can be, and worried that I would leave the country without having seen its true beauty. Yet, I’m not worried. I’m not worried because in my life I’ve already been lucky enough to see a few of these “must-sees” in this world, and what I’ve learned is that it’s not usually in those places where the true beauty of a country – or a travel – lies in.

What I felt was amazing about Cambodia was not seeing the Angkor Wat, amazing was when I sat on a wooden floor in a circle of men – celebrating the Cambodian New Year as a guest of a local family in their humble home.  What was awesome in China was not seeing the Great Wall or the Tibetan landscape, awesome was to come home from a roundtable business dinner to drink beers on the street with fruit vendors and barbers – my friends from the neighborhood. In India, after getting lost with my motorcycle, I found myself in a tiny village where the village elder showed me how life is been lived and how people relate to each other in a true Indian way – I didn’t go to see Taj Mahal, but judging from the pictures, I think it wouldn’t compare to that.

Travels of a human rights worker

After already having those experiences, what I came to Philippines for was not to see the country the way it’s covered in the travel magazines. I already knew that the beauty of a scenery from a mountain peak or having a whale shark swimming next to you can blow you away for a moment – but I also knew what are the kind of experiences that can blow you away for a lifetime.

What amazing is there to discover then in the Philippines if not the places listed in the Lonely Planet? Well, in the mountains of Rizal, I stayed with indigenous people and learned about their thousand-year-old way of seeing the world as a place where sharing, not owning, is what breeds happiness. In the Bondoc Peninsula, I shared a fresh coconut with its farmer while he gave me a lesson of the rules that apply where the rule of law is a pure fiction, just before witnessing a smile expressing relief and gratitude towards me from someone who suffered from this the most grave way. And so on, and so on.

The places where these happenings took place are not on the list of the top travel destinations in the Philippines, yet it was in those places where I had all that – moments of realizations of something that connects us all, no matter from what kind of a reality we come from. And these are the kind of experiences that can blow you away for a lifetime – and make you who you are today.

As somebody working for human rights in the Philippines, I’m lucky to have an easy exit to burst out from my own bubble of reality all the time. But that exit exists for us all no matter where we are, if we only want to find it. For me, the easiest way there has been through connecting with the people around me, better yet, with someone who seems to live in a different world than me – that is “humanitourism” at its best, and it’s a way of traveling, and living, free for all.

TFDP at Bondoc Peninsula

Melchor Rosco, the president of the farmer's association is describing the situation in the Bondoc Peninsula. He was in close cooperation with Elisa Tulid – one of the most vocal human rights defenders in the area.
Melchor Rosco – the president of a farmer’s association – describing the situation in the Bondoc Peninsula. He was in close cooperation with Elisa Tulid – one of the most vocal human rights defenders in the area. “She was strong, she was not afraid.” – he said.
Elisa Tulid's widowed husband Dannyboy staying in the background as usual.
As outspoken and strong figure as Elisa was, his widowed husband Dannyboy, however, likes to keep himself in the background.
Melanie Tulid was four years old when she witnessed her mom getting murdered. Today, however, she is acting as happy as any six-year-old child. During our visit to the Tulid family she also wanted to give a new design for my Tagalog-learning book.
Yet, Melanie Tulid seems to take after her mother. She was four years old when she witnessed her mom getting murdered. Today – two and a half a years later – she still remembers precisely how everything happened. She is angry to the murderer and according to her father, she still sometimes demands him to revenge her mother’s death. At the same time, however, she seems to be as care free as any six-year-old child. It’s often the strength of the children that amazes me the most in the Philippines. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring our visit to the Tulid family Melanie also wanted to give a new design for my Tagalog-learning book.
    Carabaos – the national animals of the Philippines – are the bread and breed for the farmers. Here we are stepping aside from the trail again because of them on our way to check up on the youngest victim of Elisa's murder...
Staying away from the blistering sun, and every now and then, from a trotting carabao – the national animal of the Philippines – on our way to check up on the youngest victim of Elisa’s murder…
Roslyn with her son sitting at the porch of their house in the mountains of xx.. Thevictim of the crime – he lost his grandmother even before his birth.
… the son of Roslyn Tulid,  who lost his grandmother even before he was born. Both the son and the mother have suffered some health problems but now they’re stable – enjoying the evening sitting at the porch of their house in the mountains of San Andres in Bondoc Peninsula.
After 30 years of commitment for her beliefs, when Brenda de Guzman speaks about human rights, others listen.
Brenda de Guzman – my work partner – is explaining to the inhabitants of San Andres to what for is she and the young white guy in the area. After 30 years of experience and devotion for her work, when Brenda speaks about human rights, others listen.
    Case files at the prosecutor's office in Gumaca where a single prosecutor handles around 1,000 cases yearly. In the whole of Bondoc Peninsula, for every 500,000 inhabitants there is one single civil judge.
Case files at the prosecutor’s office in Gumaca where a single prosecutor handles around 1,000 cases yearly. In the whole of Bondoc Peninsula, for every 500,000 inhabitants there is one single civil judge handling cases.
My afterwork hangout crew in Gumaca – a bunch of happy kids.
But this afterwork crew of mine wasn’t worrying about the justice system of their hometown – after all it was another beautiful day in the cozy coastal town of Gumaca.
On our way back home from Gumaca, we got some news from San Pablo and we stopped by at Evangelina Silva's place. Evangelina (on the right) is telling the story of how her husband got killed by the police just a week before. Sometimes we can't do anything but listen.
On our way back home from Gumaca, we got some news from San Pablo. We stopped by at Evangelina Silva’s home where she (on the right) told us the story of how her husband got killed by the police just a week before. Sometimes we can’t do anything but listen.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Oh, I almost forgot! On our trip I also saw this amazing view…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                                                                                        …and this really old and beautiful church – the top two things you should see in the Bondoc Peninsula, they say.
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