HONG KONG—“We brought along our kids because this is a teaching opportunity for them to learn that, ‘You know, your freedom, you have to fight for it,” stated “Mang Ben” (not his real name); one of many Filipino permanent residents of Hong Kong who have decided to take part in the ongoing protest for democracy.
“We brought them so that they will also be aware of what’s going on. It’s not just for fun. It’s also a teaching moment for them,” he added, as he was interviewed by reporters from the Inquirer.
The student-led “Umbrella Revolution” began four days ago; fueled by demands for China to allow the city to hold fully democratic elections.
Pro-democracy demonstrators, numbering in the thousands, gathered at major thoroughfares – disrupting traffic, bus routes and subway operations – near government offices on Sunday to decry China’s decision to limit political reforms in the semi-autonomous city. The protest targets, in particular, the elections in 2017.
Filipinos in Hong Kong were strongly urged by the Philippine Consulate General taking part in the demonstrations, but residents like “Mang Ben” – who has resided in Hong Kong for the last 25 years – feel otherwise.
“Hong Kong has given us so much economic benefits, for Filipinos particularly. [W]e want to give back,” he said.
There are an estimated 185,000 Filipinos living and working in Hong Kong; 15,000 of whom have acquired permanent resident status. The latest figures from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas pegs the number of Filipino in Hong Kong at 195,000.
The Filipinos came out with their cameras and yellow-ribbons, a throwback to the Philippines’ EDSA revolution in 1986, which “Mang Ben” recounted is what the Hong Kong demonstration is akin to.
Despite having been dispersed with tear gas on Sunday by police, the crowd has swelled in the Admiralty district, in the areas of Causeway Bay, the Wan Chai nightlife district and the harbor in Mong Kok on the Kowloon peninsula.
Since the incident, however, police have mainly observed the demonstration – largely peaceful in nature – from behind barricades.
“Mang Ben” pointed out that the protest is very well-organized; noting the courtesy displayed by fellow-protestors. He also commended the student leaders for their knowledge and efficiency at answering queries about the demonstration.
“They’re very well organized. We interviewed some students and they know the issues. That is surprising. They have a good grasp of the issues, what’s at stake. That’s why we were encouraged,” he said.
Philippine Consul General Bernardita Catalla reiterated the consulate’s earlier request for Filipinos not to get involved with the protest.
“While we believe in democracy—our heroes fought and died for freedom and many of our countrymen were imprisoned or went to the mountains for freedom—I would just like to remind everyone that we are here to work and we know there are limits to what we can do here,” Catalla said, as she spoke before a group of Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong on Wednesday afternoon.
“Please, stay away from the areas where protests are [going on], we don’t want to be involved. Let’s always remember that Hong Kong is part of China. Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong,” she stressed.
“And my priority is to keep your life and employment protected. We are here to work. This is not our country. Our families are back in the Philippines. Let us not get involved,” Catalla added.
“Mang Ben” and his group – comprised of more than 20 Filipino men, women, and children – expressed, however, that an atmosphere of safety prevails in the areas of demonstration.
“The fear is there would be a Tiananmen Square-style crackdown so [the protesters] are also careful. But it’s very safe here. And with you, the press, focusing here, I don’t think that will happen. I hope they will not,” he told the Inquirer media representatives.
“As permanent residents of Hong Kong, we are part of Hong Kong society and we have the rights and the freedoms … so we also share in supporting, being one with the Hong Kong people,” he added.