Wednesday, April 19, 2023

[Plenary Speech] International Harm Reduction Conference #HR23 - Melbourne, Australia

On April 16-19, 2023, I participated in the 27th Harm Reduction International Conference (#HR23) that was held in Melbourne, Australia and organized by Harm Reduction International. Gathering harm reduction advocates, scholars, and policymakers, the conference brought together over 1,000 delegates from 80 countries - including over a dozen from the Philippines.

Together with Kirsten Han (Transformative Justice Collective, Singapore), Gina Jackson (Return to the Heart Foundation, USA) and Kassandra Frederique (Drug Policy Alliance, USA), I was part of the opening plenary entitled "Challenging Systems of Oppression". In my address, I talked about the role of activism, advocacy, and scholarship in the Philippines during and beyond Duterte's drug war - as well as the need to "decolonize harm reduction". Here are some of the concluding thoughts I imparted: 

This is message that we send you from the Philippines: That even when our leaders suppress our rights and oppress our communities, there are good people in government, in the private sector, civil society, people who use drugs who work for change, pursuing activisms both loud and quiet, advocacies both urgent and enduring. 

That even when society as a whole think that drugs are evil, even when they support leaders who echo that view, there are academics, artists, various allies who try - in their own ways, to erode that view, slowly and patiently, pointing out its many contradictions.

And even at the darkest moments of oppression, there are pockets of resistance that are spelling the difference between death and life.

Inspired by the conference, I also wrote a column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer entitled "The case for harm reduction".