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Success Story | Human Rights under a Positive Light Narrative Lab Towards protracted rebuilding of trust and support of the public to the human rights movement


This article is part of a series of articles published in conjunction with our annual report. You can read the full report “Reaching Further” here.


The Narrative Lab held in February 2023 invited 13 youth organisers, 16 artists/media/creatives, 15 human rights workers, and 4 educators. Participants coming from diverse sectors, communities, and regions in the Philippines were invited with an objective to advocate to become resilient actors for human rights and democracy in their own communities and to sustainably engage them to work for meaningful change.

President Rodrigo Duterte has been known for his populist to authoritarian form of ruling with strong negative stance against human rights activists, branded as “obstructors of justice” with threat of attacks against those identified or vehemently tagged as affiliated with the communists. Moreover, digital platforms became a convenient machinery to attack the credibility not just of organisations and movements but institutions of check and balances. Trust in the media has been attacked during the Duterte regime as Rappler’s editorial leadership has been put into question and the Philippines biggest network ABS-CBN has been shut down – removing one of the main sources of non-state sources of public information and public service. Any progressive stance is met with anti-progressive, anti-human rights, and anti-activist narratives. The climate of fear propagated by government institutions impacted heavily on human rights advocacy work. As FORUM-ASIA members in the Philippines observed, the negative public perception against the human rights movement left many `at a brink of inactivity and irrelevance’. Following the first activity in 2021 which provided key understanding of how narratives can play important roles in social change, DAKILA (Philippine Collective for Modern Heroism) and FORUM-ASIA deemed it is crucial to unpack and reshape strategies to counter-anti human rights narratives which has been widely used during the election period. FORUM-ASIA member in the Philippines, DAKILA, developed a project that will build the capacity of HRDs toward building positive narratives on human rights advocacy work, human rights champions, and human rights organisations amid political demonisation. The project is envisaged to contribute to the protracted rebuilding of trust and support of the public towards human rights advocacy work, champions, an organisation.

The narrative lab is a mix of capacity building and consultation workshop where participants from different background were tasked to exercise human rights issues mapping and power analysis. A diverse group of 63 human rights advocates, community organisers, and artists-activists gathered during a two-day focused group discussion and workshop to build the baseline data for the development of the Narrative Change Communications Playbook. From these various exercises during the workshop, DAKILA was able to identify most pressing issues concerning to their sectors, communities, and political territories. Utilising the narrative analysis and a post-Duterte behavioural analysis to develop its strategic plan and a resistance playbook under the new Marcos Jr. administration, the Narrative Lab Communications Playbook was developed with the intention to guide sector-specific social behavioral change campaign interventions. Through this initiative it is expected to to contribute to a strong and broad human rights and democracy movement by empowering the youth, educators, artists/creatives, and advocates to become resilient in pursuing meaningful change and strengthen the social movements in the Philippines.

As one of the key organisations that has been playing a vital role on the promotion of narrative change, FORUM-ASIA will continue supporting and working with DAKILA on this endeavor. As such, DAKILA organised one of the side sessions during the AHRDF10 held in November in Malaysia on the positive narrative building where they also presented an example of their national narrative lab workshop to the wider audience. Moreover, this project allowed FORUM-ASIA to strengthen its engagement with DAKILA who can potentially link up FORUM-ASIA with their network and explore future projects related to narrative change. These efforts will eventually shape a more dynamic and relevant human rights movement in the Philippines in the face of the popularity of anti-human rights narratives.