Streetbuzz Interview

March 22, 2004

Magdalena "Daymeg" Lepiten: attorney, activist and President of the Philippine Center for Media Advocacy.

A STREETBUZZ INTERVIEW

Daymeg Lepiten

STREETBUZZ: Daymeg, may I ask your age, where were you born, and how about your family?

DAYMEG LEPITEN: I'm 42, and I was born in Tacloban on Leyte Island. We were eight children: I have four sisters and three brothers. We were middle class, both of my parents were government employees. Only my mom is still alive. She's living in Monterey, California, with my sister who's a nurse.

STREETBUZZ: You attended college and law school?

DAYMEG LEPITEN: I did my undergraduate studies at University of the Philippines, Las Banos, in agricultural engineering. Then I studied law for three years at University of San Jose Recoletos, and my last year of law school was at Manuel Quezon University in Manila.

STREETBUZZ: How about your marriage, and raising your own family?

DAYMEG LEPITEN: Yes, I am married and I have three kids: Nikko, and twins, Nikka and Nikki. I am now separated.

Top row: Daymeg and Fionah Bojos (PhilMedia Executive Director);
Bottom row: Nikko and Nikki.

Daymeg Lepiten

STREETBUZZ: Can you tell us about PhilMedia, what is it and how did it get started?

DAYMEG LEPITEN: PhilMedia started sometime 2000 after I left Children's Legal Bureau, Inc. as the Executive Director. I have long discussions with the current Executive Director Anna Fionah Bojos about the state of Philippine media, thus, we decided to come up with PhilMedia. We see that the mainstream media has not been answering the needs of the people and that it was not able to articulate the people's issues and concerns. Because of that, government has not been responsive to the needs of the people. Through PhilMedia, we would like to provide a venue where various people's agenda and advocacy can be presented to the government and the public. We do a lot of training to help NGOs and POs to present their agenda to the public and to the government. We call it, media advocacy training. We would also train the people to be critical on what is being fed to them. We encourage small media like you, Chris is doing right now (personal website.) Internet-based information from direct sources is beneficial to a lot of people. For one, it encourage various voices to be heard. And also, Internet-based media encourage plurality and diversity of ideas and breaks the monopoly of mainstream and corporate media.

STREETBUZZ: I believe the main focus of PhilMedia right now is in the area of environmental issues? The Philippines does seem to have significant environmental problems....

DAYMEG LEPITEN: Yes, we have a lot. I think I have been into environmental issues for more than ten years now. I consider myself as an environmental lawyer. For PhilMedia, environmental issues has been and still is one of the main thrust of the organization. As of now, the organization is focused with these issues due to resource limitations. But it does not mean that the group will not tackle issues concerning women, children, and other human rights issues like gays and lesbians. Also, the group is concerned on issues of government corruption, accountability and transparency.

STREETBUZZ: Children's issues are also a major area of interest for your group?

DAYMEG LEPITEN: In PhilMedia, we try very hard to integrate major issues like environment and children but at the same time giving enough focus on the particularity of the issue.

For children issues, juvenile justice, child abuse and trafficking, child labor are some of common issues here in Cebu City. It is worth mentioning the participation of PhilMedia on the campaign to stop children as courier in the drug trade. In Cebu City, the drug trade has been so pervasive that the squatter communities are now marketplaces for the selling of drugs, known as "shabu", and children has been used as "salespersons" in various roles as runners, posting, re-packers and look-outs.

After we finished the study of children's involvement in drug trafficking, the research was published in the local and national daily. It was printed in Philippine Daily Inquirer and was read by two national TV. PhilMedia assisted the two national media, GMA 7's Probe Team and ABS-CBN's The Correspondence in the coverage for children's involvement in drug trafficking.

Daymeg Lepiten

STREETBUZZ: How about women's issues? And here's another question: women do seem to be in an inferior position relative to men here in the Philippines, that is compared to the position of women in richer countries such as the USA. Yet, compared to many other Asian, Middle Eastern and African countries, Filipino women seem much better off. You agree?

DAYMEG LEPITEN: Yes, although Filipino women are in a much better position compared with other Asian women, still, it has a long way to go compared with women from first world countries. One tragic consequence of the country's poverty is that many Filipino women leave their family and children to look for job abroad. But we don't have any intervention on that, as of the moment. The other day, we were invited to facilitate a program framework on the issue of "reproductive health" to a network of NGOs called Bangon based in Bohol Island. So, most probably, PhilMedia will just focus on the said issue. It can be said that PhilMedia is a very fluid organization focusing on answering the needs of the various NGO's.

STREETBUZZ: I think you also have a plan to work on gay & lesbian issues?

DAYMEG LEPITEN: We will be presenting a monologue covering the issues of "family and work discrimination of gays and lesbians." In Cebu City, Phlippines, we cannot really say that there is such a thing as a gay rights movement. What we have are lots of gay pageants which for some, they might consider it "gay visibility". But, the gays and lesbians are not yet in a position that you might consider them "legitimate" issues, even among women's groups. But PhilMedia would like to contribute in some way for this issue to be mainstreamed. So, as to be talked about and discussed, we think it is effective if we use monologue and plays as a medium for advocacy.

STREETBUZZ: Daymeg, I think you don't have enough things to work on. Ha-ha! But seriously, are there any other projects you have going, or plans for?

DAYMEG LEPITEN: Yes, there is one more. PhilMedia is helping me with an environmental law guidebook. Well, with so many things going, I don't know if it can be finished within this year. I hope so.

STREETBUZZ: Well, finally, about your current focus campaign: what is bioprospecting?

DAYMEG LEPITEN: Yes, it is a term that many are unfamiliar with. Bioprospecting refers to the search for valuable biological and genetic resources lying around us, for commercial purposes. Biopiracy refers to the stealing of knowledge from traditional and indigenous communities or individuals, and especially when transnational corporations apply intellectual property rights to obtain patents, so as to gain control of those resources. We are putting up an advocacy group called Biopiracy Watch. And we are very fortunate for you, Chris to agree to be our International Liason Officer. PhilMedia is the secretariat of this group. It will monitor and document biopiracy in the region and do a lot of campaign against biopiracy.

STREETBUZZ: Sure, it's OK with me, just so I can do the job while I'm busy eating steamed buns in China. Ha-ha! Thank you very much for the interview, it's been wonderful working with you a little the past few weeks, and I hope we can continue when I return from China.

Daymeg Lepiten

*****

A STREETBUZZ INTERVIEW

Daymeg can be contacted at daymeg@info.com.ph

See the new PhilMedia website (created by Chris Pforr)