Three individuals were arrested on Friday, September 23, outside the Asia Society headquarters in Manhattan’s Upper East Side during a protest. The demonstration was in response to the invitation extended to Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., the president of the Philippines, to speak at an event coinciding with this week’s United Nations General Assembly.
Just two days earlier, on September 21, activists in Manila commemorated the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of martial law in the Philippines under Ferdinand E. Marcos, the father of the current president. The protestors condemned the brutal killings, human rights violations, and corruption that marked his 14-year dictatorship, emphasizing the message “never forget.”
Prior to the 2:45 pm event at the Asia Society, a crowd gathered outside the venue with signs reading “death to dynasties,” echoing the sentiments of the Manila protesters. Video footage posted on Twitter captured the activists attempting to disrupt the event and forming a human chain in front of the entrance as security personnel intervened. The activists’ repeated chants of “Shame on you for giving a platform to Marcos Jr.” underscored their discontent.
A video shared with Hyperallergic depicted one protester being detained by a plainclothes official outside Corrado, a nearby café. Despite the arrests, an Asia Society representative clarified that the arrests did not take place on the organization’s premises, as confirmed by the New York City Police Department (NYPD).
Gina Apostol, a Filipino novelist present at the protest, expressed her disappointment with the Asia Society, urging them to acknowledge the implications of their decision. She emphasized the significance of upholding democratic ideals and holding accountable those associated with oppressive regimes like Marcos Jr.’s.
Following the incident, an open letter co-authored by Apostol and signed by over 450 artists and writers, including prominent Asian-American and Filipino scholars, was sent to Kevin Rudd, the president and CEO of the Asia Society. The letter condemned the organization’s support of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., citing his family’s history of authoritarian rule and human rights abuses. The authors pledged to boycott the Asia Society and encourage others to do the same unless the invitation to Marcos Jr. was rescinded.
Responding to the criticism, the Asia Society acknowledged the concerns raised and emphasized the organization’s role as a forum for leaders from across Asia. They highlighted the importance of engaging with various perspectives, especially during the UN General Assembly meetings in New York, where discussions on the Philippines’ economy, foreign policy, and human rights took place.
The letter highlighted the historical context of the Marcos regime, detailing the atrocities committed during his tenure, including torture, imprisonment of activists and journalists, and extrajudicial killings. It also pointed out the efforts made by the Marcos family to whitewash their history through political propaganda and social media campaigns.
In a conversation with Hyperallergic, Nancy Bulalacao, a former Asia Society member, acknowledged the organization’s historical ties to power dynamics, noting the inherent challenges in reconciling its relationship with the AAPI community while navigating global political engagements.
As of the latest update, the article has been amended to include information about the arrests and a statement from the Asia Society spokesperson.