Inspired. Challenged. Galvanized.
These are three words that I came up with to define my state of mind after my weeklong trip to The Hague for the World Justice Forum in May. It took a lot of time to unpack the whole WJF experience since it was something that felt unreal in parts.
Three months ago, it was not in my consciousness that I would be speaking during an international conference, alongside experts and advocates from all over the world and from different generations, about people-centered justice and the rule of law. That is not something that a young leader from sub-urban Cavite province in the Philippines would aspire to experience, because we are just not afforded this kind of opportunity regularly. But this exact reason is why I really wanted to attend: rarely do we have this kind of opportunity, and I should not miss it, as we might not have a chance in the near future to be heard on this platform.
Working as a young journalist in the Philippines, I have written about stories of people and communities who have been experiencing injustices all their lives—some of which share this experience from one generation to another. I also felt that this is a good way to amplify their voices and share their stories so that people from all over the world will know. It felt like attending this year’s World Justice Forum goes beyond my personal experience; I also need to put forward our shared experiences of injustices and “rule by law” in the Philippines and in Asia.
It was an immense task to assign myself since the only expectation was for me to attend and speak about my advocacy. But with the realities back at home, it felt like a “must” than a “nice to-do” on my list.
And looking back, I’m happy to say that I got to do just that and then some during this year’s World Justice Forum.
I had two speaking opportunities during the conference: a high-profile live-streamed intergenerational dialogue on people-centered justice with The Elders Chair Mary Robinson about the Justice Action Coalition’s Young Justice Leaders program, and an in-person working session hosted by Terre des Hommes, The Pathfinders for Justice, and the University of Strathclyde on children and youth inclusion in advocating justice for all.
To prepare for the session with Mary, along with other young justice leaders, I also had the opportunity to discuss pressing issues from Asia: press freedom, data justice, and the rise of populist-authoritarian policies that curtail people’s freedoms and rights with her and hear her thoughts about how we can inspire intergenerational action to further intensify the efforts to address those. It felt like a masterclass in advocacy leadership, and it was an honor to share the realities from my side of the world with a globally acclaimed leader.
When it came to the actual session, it felt like a breeze, and I just wish we had more time to further dig deeper on the initial issues covered. One key takeaway that I had from Mary was about self-care for advocates: find time and interests outside of justice and rule of law advocacy. As a young leader who sees personal life and advocacy work as integrated, I needed that wake-up call from somebody who lived through decades of advocacy work in this space. From my end, I am also proud to say that I taught Mary Robinson one thing, albeit more pop culture than justice-related: in a photo op, I shared with her the finger heart gesture she can do when posing for photos.
Meanwhile, the working session on children and youth inclusion in advocating #JusticeForAll panned out more like a co-learning session. While sharing narratives and perspectives from the Philippines and Asia, I also got to learn from others in the panel and even from participants: their lived experiences of injustice as former children, and how that shaped their advocacy as grown-ups. It was as informative as it was an opportunity to highlight the realities back home, so I got to take away some learnings I can share with youth leaders from the Philippines as well.
On top of these two sessions, I also got to attend other panels and working sessions that exposed me to new perspectives and approaches to the rule of law and human rights advocacy. As soon as I arrived home (actually, even while waiting for my flight back to Manila), I already shared some of the things I learned with my friends and fellow advocates. It lit a fire in me to further improve how we do advocacy work in the country and in the region, especially as we prepare to face new threats and challenges against human rights and rule of law.
One thing that I took on as a challenge for the next iteration of the World Justice Forum would be to advocate for ensuring that we have more youth and Asia representation the next time around. During the Asia-Pacific regional networking session, we barely filled a medium-sized room, which meant that due to COVID-19 restrictions and other limitations, our representation is quite small compared to our actual population size. Some sessions about youth and children inclusion did not have featured youth leaders in them. I made sure to echo these observations as much as I can during my speaking opportunities so that we can include this as something to consciously work on for next time.
Overall, this year’s WJF, for me, is one for the books. It was refreshing to have this kind of gathering and platform after years of virtual meetings and conferences, and I am happy that beyond the sessions I mentioned above, I also got to make new friends along the way. This would not be possible without Pathfinders’ support, and the warm welcome from collaborators and organizations present at the World Justice Forum 2022. I look forward to seeing you all again during the next one, wherein I hope to bring in new stories and narratives from communities in the Philippines and in Asia.
Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for more information on our Asia-Pacific regional stakeholders meeting on Building Partnerships for Rule of Law tentatively scheduled for early December.