Stanford undergrad awarded human rights fellowship, heads to Hong Kong

Adrian Bonifacio, a second generation Filipino-American from Chicago, is one of the recipients of the Program on Human Rights and the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society's 2012 Human Rights Fellowship.  The Program on Human Rights at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law together with the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society offer four annual summer fellowships in human rights open to Stanford undergraduates interested in working for organizations, government agencies, NGOs or international organizations that promote or defend human rights.

This summer, Bonifacio will work with the Asian Pacific Mission for Migrants, a non-governmental organization based in Hong Kong that promotes and defends the rights of migrant workers, a majority of whom are Filipino. Filipino immigrants in Hong Kong work predominately as domestic workers. The situation of Filipino diasporas is very complex with more than 10% of the Filipino population abroad, and over 4,000 Filipinos leaving the country every day.

Passionate about Filipino and Filipino-American issues relating to human rights such as migration, exploitation, and servitude, Stanford undergraduate Bonifacio has joined Filipino groups such as Stanford’s Pilipino American Student Union (PASU) and Anakbayan Silicon Valley, a youth organization based in Santa Clara County. He is currently pursuing a major in international relations with a minor in economics as well as co-term masters degree in sociology.

In the 1970s, Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos began the Labor Export Policy (LEP), a deliberate policy to send Filipino workers abroad. “This became a vicious cycle, the Philippines tried to achieve economic development based on remittances but because it sends both high skill and low skill workers abroad, and because the remittances they send are not usually put towards investment and long term development, there is not much progress happening in the country," explained Bonifacio. "Every president since Marcos has continued to promote the LEP in the name of national development.”

Last summer, Bonifacio worked for HURIGHTS OSAKA, a human rights non-profit organization, where he conducted research related to Filipino migrants in Japan to understand the link between human rights and remittances. “Although it was difficult integrating with the community in such a limited timeframe, a lot of different opportunities presented themselves—celebrating Philippine Independence Day, cooking Filipino food for events, even performing traditional dances," said Bonifacio. "My supervisor at work and all the migrants I have come to know made my transition into life in Japan, as well as my research, much easier.”

Japan and agencies in the Philippines that facilitate labor migration are notorious for abusing “entertainment visas” which allowed young women to be trafficked into Japan. Many Filipino women were promised jobs in high-end hotels as singers or dancers, but upon arrival in Japan, were trafficked into bars, with some entering prostitution rings and red light districts... Starting in the mid-1980s, many Japanese men in rural areas began to “import” Filipino women as mail-order brides, to solve the demographic problem of low birth rates caused largely by women moving out to cities to pursue professional careers.

Although the mail-order bride phenomenon has died down and Japan has since abolished the entertainment visa in 2006, there are still cases of abuse and human trafficking. Moreover, Filipino men have a history of working in construction, often as day laborers with insecure sources of income and housing. According to Bonifacio, “It is hard to determine the proportion of remittances that come from exploitation, but if you look at general trends and the types of employment Filipinos have all over the world—for example as “entertainers” in Japan or domestic workers in Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, and even the United States—one could say that remittances and exploitation are closely connected.”

In preparation for his fellowship in Hong Kong Bonifacio says, “I was humbled by what I saw in Japan. I think that one of the best things one can do to educate oneself - and something that does not always happen in a classroom - is to understand the community we want to serve. We need to learn about the issues these communities face before considering fighting for change.”

Students interested in applying to the human rights fellowship for the summer of 2013 should contact Nadejda Marques to learn about the selection process and deadline for submission.