‘We’ve never gotten this far before’: Ellen Lee and Alfredo Rivera unite Philippines in defiance

Written by Staff Writer, CNN

What brought Ellen Lee to wear a T-shirt with the image of Peng Liyuan, and the message “for those who work hard for #equality” underneath?

Her advocacy was there for all to see.

Lee, a women’s rights activist in The Philippines, flew back to Manila after President Rodrigo Duterte’s trip to the United States last month. She and her husband, Alfredo, felt passionate about making the trip during the Republican president’s visit.

The couple have long been campaigning to get Duterte to consider domestic violence victims’ rights — their two sisters were victims — and they were intent on asking what would happen to their country if the sexual assault case against Duterte occurred.

Ellen Lee and Alfredo Rivera, 2014. Credit: Courtesy of Ellen Lee

Ellen Lee and Alfredo Rivera, 2014. Credit: Courtesy of Ellen Lee

Peng Liyuan has always been described as an ambitious woman, but one who’s also modest and humble. President Duterte’s comments about her attendance at the White House brought her to the front page of the Philippines’ news.

Lines of crutches are broken and people march on downtown Manila to express concern that Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte would be ousted for corruption. Credit: Getty Images

The shirt with the T-shirt decrying women’s bodies became a symbol of Philippine opposition to Duterte.

“Having been in the Philippines for a long time, I thought: ‘Are we ready for this to happen?’ ” Lee said.

“I was really heartbroken. I thought that if these comments had been made when Filipinos were behind his government, we’d be in a very different situation.”

(President Donald Trump has since put forth a gag order to members of his administration and family regarding their social media accounts).

President Donald Trump addresses the media in the Rose Garden of the White House. Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A Philippine government official has compared Duterte to Adolf Hitler.

The forward movement of a phallus can be an alternative “traveling penis.” Credit: via YouTube

Lee’s journey began in the early 2000s in a county park in Aurora, where she was homeless and incarcerated.

“I thought, if there is anything I am good at, it’s standing up for the rights of other people,” she said.

“I don’t even know what gender I am yet, so this has all been very much like learning for me about identity and that I can be living in a country where this is still being talked about.”

Both Lee and her husband plan to leave the Philippines in the coming months to pursue works of art, and are looking forward to returning to the U.S.

“I would rather be able to say that I took someone to the White House and got an award for having the courage to take them there,” Lee said.

However, it’s easy to forget that the repercussions of China’s crackdown on civil rights and its assault on religious rights have long been an issue for Manila.

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