WHO I AM
I am Renee from the Philippines. I have been working in the international development sector for seven years, specifically on human rights and climate justice issues. I also work as a freelance journalist. Because of my vocal criticism of the government and president Rodrigo Duterte, I have received death and rape threats and harassment from the government and its supporters. I got these through Facebook, from both trolls and rabid Duterte supporters.
I filed criminal cases against these people through the help of lawyers doing pro-bono work, but no one has been apprehended. I was also under an EU protection programme back in the Philippines. The same people implementing the programme are also now facing threats of their own. In the time this happened, I was under therapy for the trauma it has caused me.
Here is a media coverage of my case:
Watch a video of a television interview about my case:
In 2017, I decided to leave the country and do my first degree in the United Kingdom, which I have finished in September 2018. I have tried to look for work but have failed because of strict immigration policies and unwillingness of organisations to sponsor my work visa, even if I have volunteered to pay for all the fees related to this process.
I have thought of getting asylum but the human rights lawyer whom I've consulted said my case would only have a 60% success rate. If I fail, I would get banned in the UK for 10 years. This is too big of a risk for me to take.
I have feared going back home and have found that a way to stay was to pursue further studies. I have been luckily accepted to do a PhD research. I have a few savings I could use for my stay in the UK but helping pay for my maintenance fees would be of great help. I was given a full tuition scholarship but without stipend or maintenance fees. I also need to pay 2000GBP towards my visa.
THE RESEARCH I WILL UNDERTAKE
I have been accepted to a PhD studentship from Loughborough University in the UK. I'm grateful to the university for choosing my research topic.
I will be researching about how Facebook has impacted democracy and elections in the Philippines. This is a crucial research especially in light of recent events around the world — Donald Trump, Brexit, Bolsonaro — the rise of conservatism and strongmen in leadership. If you've watched The Great Hack on Netflix, this is what I will be examining in my 3-year research.
I wanted to do this not only to understand how social media has become a big part of our democracies but also to process what happened to me personally. How does Facebook help spread disinformation or fake news? How do people process information on social media and how does it affect their political choices?
The research won't be easy and I will need access to Facebook data (which, with my supervisors' help, I will ask from Facebook). However, I want to contribute to this new and growing body of research and hopefully help shed some light on what we can do to get our democracies back.
MY EXPERIENCE IN MY FIELD
I am a communications specialist and have been campaigning for human rights and climate justice. In 2015, I was named by The Guardian as one of the Young Climate Campaigners to watch before the UN Paris Summit:
In early 2018 I gave a lecture at the University of Cambridge alongside experts to talk about why storytelling is important in campaigning. View the video here:
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT FOR ME
Should I go back to the Philippines where I have death threats, I believe I would not be able to do the same research and I would not be able to continue my role in the development field. If I were to go back to the Philippines, I would need to pre-occupy myself in ensuring my safety and would most likely need to be in hiding. However, undertaking this research and staying in the UK will allow me to be visible and continue to have a voice, while working for my country and the world.