Filipino playwright in the UK granted with refugee status | Global News
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Filipino playwright in the UK granted with refugee status

10:22 PM January 28, 2022

Rogelio Braga at Calder Bookshop Theater (photo credit Warren Hallet-Cousins)

In the early morning of January 27, I got a call from London. It was Rogelio Braga, an exiled award-winning Filipino playwright seeking asylum in the United Kingdom (UK) due to threats of extra-judicial killing in the Philippines under the Duterte administration. He is also the publisher of Balangiga Press, an indie publication in the Philippines.

“I am now a refugee. I can now enjoy all the benefits of [being] a British citizen. Most importantly, I can now travel outside of the UK, except in the Philippines,” Braga excitedly told me.

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Braga is the first Filipino writer granted by the UK government with refugee status. As such, the UK recognizes the threat in his life as well as the extra-judicial killings and the persecution of those against the Duterte administration.

In a letter dated November 16, 2020, sent to the Home Office Asylum Unit, the English PEN headed by its director Daniel Gorman, sent a letter of support to Braga.

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According to PEN:

“Mr. Braga’s narrative about the pressures that he faced in the Philippines aligns with many other similar narratives from writers, journalists, and intellectuals persecuted in the country.

In light of the above information, we believe that Mr. Braga is deserving of humanitarian protection and request you to grant his application for asylum here in the United Kingdom.”

 

The novelist and a playwright

Braga is also known for his novel “Colon” published by Balangiga Press in 2016. Colon is a historical fiction about the war in Mindanao.

Since 2016, Braga has been receiving death threats but he considered it as a part of his life as a writer and a playwright critical of the regime. Later, the threats were just no longer online messages and phone calls from strangers, but also “visits” in his apartment. His family and friends were also put in danger.

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Even in the UK, he is still receiving threats from unknown persons. His publisher, 87 Press in London also received a mysterious email discrediting Braga’s works.

Braga’s controversial play, Ang Mga Maharlika performed by UP Repertory in September 2017 was supposed to be toured in several venues that year but the producers decided to cancel the shows due to intimidation and death threats to the actors and production staff from the supporters and loyalists of the Marcoses and Duterte. It was also banned on Facebook.

The play was based on Dovie Beam’s biography written by Hermie Rotea, an exiled journalist. It was banned in the Philippines by Imelda Marcos.

 

The student

In September 2018, Braga came to the UK to pursue a postgraduate degree in Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict at Birkbeck, the University of London as a Chevening Scholar.

“I intend to stay here for 10 months and then to return home to my work and research endeavors in Mindanao. I was unable to return since February 2019. I left my small publishing house, a start-up theater company, my books, house, my cats, and the various research endeavors and projects back in the Philippines,” Braga explains.

Braga finished an MSc in Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict at the Department of Politics, Birkbeck, University of London. Presently, he is finishing his PhD at the School of Arts Birbeck College, University of London, while also working as Associate Tutor and working part-time in a restaurant as a kitchen porter.

“I wash plates for 11 hours and spend the rest of the day writing,” Rogelio shares.

Rogelio Braga during a protest (photo credit Irang Bak)

 

Asylum seekers and refugees in the UK

Asylum seekers made up 6% of the UK immigrants in 2019. As of June 2021, asylum seekers have reached 125,000 cases. This has doubled since 2014. Of these, 57,000 cases were awaiting an initial decision at the end of 2020, 5,900 were awaiting the outcome of an appeal, and approximately 39,500 cases were subject to removal action.

In 2020, the countries from which the largest number of asylum applicants came to the UK were Iran (3,847), Albania (2,784), Eritrea (2,496), Iraq (2,304), Sudan (2,040), and Syria (1,479), according to the report of House of Commons.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) definition, “Asylum” is protection given by a country to someone fleeing from persecution in their own country. An “asylum seeker” is someone who has applied for asylum and is awaiting a decision on whether they will be granted refugee status.

Formal refugee status is granted according to the definition in the United Nations Refugee Convention, which was ratified by the UK in 1954.

A refugee is someone who, owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

 

If the person was refused with a refugee status, the UK government can also grant humanitarian protection upon the criteria set by the Home Office. Humanitarian protection are given to those fleeing the war zone, victimized by trafficking, and other criteria as deemed fit by the Home Office. If refused of either of the two, the asylum seeker will be notified and must leave the UK immediately. All the benefits will also stop 21 days after the refusal.

 

Grants and upcoming works

Braga is the first Filipino recipient of the Professional Writers Programme 2020-22 of  New Earth Theater (formerly Yellow Earth) for his play Miss Philippines about the survivors and victims of Duterte’s drug war is his first play written in English. It will be read again at Soho Theater in May 2022.

Currently, Braga is a part of the “No Borders” program of the Royal Court Theater on political theater while his play Till Human Voices Wake Us and We Drown for Theater Témoin was a part of the NHS Yarns at Mercury Theater, in Colchester, England.

Braga is also involved in the “50 Sculptures in 50 Voice” Project of the History of Art Department at the University of York and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, where he will write a monologue on the life of Captain Granville Gower Loch (by Carlo Marochetti,1853) based on his monument inside St. Paul’s Cathedral.

May Rush Hour Ba Sa Third World Country, Braga’s collection of short stories will be released by the 87Press in London by November. It is written in Filipino and was translated by Kristine Ong Muslim, a renowned author and translator based in Mindanao.

Braga also does volunteer works like community teaching creative writing amongst the refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants through Better Living Through Creative Writing and Freedom from Torture.

Message for the UK Government:

I am very thankful for the protection accorded to me by the UK Government and its people. I look at this also as the government acknowledges the state violence against writers, artists, theater-makers, and activists and the dire state of freedom of expression in the Philippines. I hope that this would invite the British public to look into the dangerous situation and the struggles of Filipino writers writing outside the literary establishment of the Philippines, outside the mainstream, writing outside the metropolis in the Philippines. 

 

Message to the PH Government:

I no longer have words for the Philippine Government. What for? Conversations to legitimize it? It totally ceased to become my government when the state murdered the first Filipino through extra-judicial killings in 2016 and when the dictator Marcos was buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in September that year. I’d rather appeal to Filipinos to never stop seeking justice for those who were murdered under the Duterte regime, to be wary of the Marcoses returning to power, to be very careful from politicians who would rather compromise in the name of ‘false unity’ or grabbing power cosplaying as ‘the alternative or the lesser evil’ than straightforwardly, without reservations rejecting the killings, the state violence against the most vulnerable members of our society, and the plunder of the country’s resources and the environment by foreign business enterprises in tandem with local corrupt cronies. What is happening to us is not a political tragedy as what these ‘political alternatives’ would like us to believe for this coming election; it is a tragedy of our national conscience; the healing should come from below. The healing should begin from within ourselves, that we reject all powers coming from above, from the already bastardized government institutions. With all the killings, our resistance should have brought us to the point of no return that we might as well fight—or flight for survival.

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TAGS: Balangiga Press, EJK, playwright, Refugee, rights, Rodrigo Duterte, Rogelio Braga, UK
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