The event was scheduled to begin at 12:15. The opening remarks began at around 1. Somewhere in between, the convocation of journalists turned their heads to the door expecting Bono, and instead saw a throng of famous personalities coming in. Angel Locsin was easy to recognize. Karen Davila was also among the crowd. If you were to make a guess, do you think they were there for acclaimed philanthropist and U2 frontman Bono, or for the Philippine Red Cross?
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This ramshackle meet-and-greet was meant to be a media conference, specifically for a collaboration between the Philippine Red Cross and drone delivery service Zipline. These organizations would come together to introduce parts of Visayas to a new medical service: stations of autonomous drones designed to deliver blood and medical equipment in times of emergency, crisis, or disaster.
Bono came into the room and decibel levels in the space spiked as shutters went off to capture the singer’s image. He was wearing a shirt, jacket, and a pair of tinted teashades. His remarks received the most applause. Before his arrival, those in attendance were advised to keep cameraphones low in consideration of the cameramen at the back, but once Bono came in, all warnings flew out the window.
In the opening remarks, it seemed the frontman wanted to get all U2-related matters out of the way, right out the gate. He said he and his band were excited to play for Manila tomorrow, for the first time, and that the rest of his band didn’t know he was already here—which is a strange thing to add since he had dinner the night before courtesy of Margarita Fores alongside his guitarist The Edge.
“Where you live should never decide whether you live, and that’s why we’re here,” he told the press. It was a succinct but powerful statement to make about the efforts Zipline and the Philippine Red Cross were making to reach out vulnerable areas and make medical services more accessible. But you bring somebody like Bono over to the Philippines, where nationhood is practically defined by the precarious state of human rights, and you expect him to say more.
Two queries during the question and answer forum made an impact. The first query made a callback to when The Beatles famously snubbed the Marcoses when they first came to the country and, given that framing, asked if Bono had any plans to see the president. Bono said he had no plans to see the president, and seemed more interested in talking about U2’s upcoming concert, or the drone delivery service.
The second question asked Bono if he had a message to President Rodrigo Duterte, given the frontman’s position as a member of the human rights group Amnesty International. While Bono first started by saying he was there to “make a difference, not headlines,” he made one thing clear: “You can’t compromise on human rights. That’s my soft message to President Duterte.” He also said that journalists were important, perhaps aware of the fact the administration has made repeated efforts to silence media.
It was indeed a “soft message.” Bono, perhaps not the type to make confrontational statements, made no mention of the drug war, or police brutality, or the killing of journalists, even though such a thing would be expected of him as a member of Amnesty International. Appropriately, the message was met by subdued “wooh!”’s and soft cheers, mostly from people in the room not from the press.
Photographs by Chris Clemente