Truth Tellers in Different Forms

By By Richmon Rey Jundis | DAKILA

*This essay reflects on the role of truthtelling in different ways as a form of activism, and on its role in empowering individuals in the society. *

For most artists, it is easy to tell a story that pleases many people, but it takes immense bravery for one to tell a story without hiding a single fact– especially when a story involves crimes, injustices, and human rights violations.

According to Nasi (2020), most people’s fear of street violence is influenced by the active consumption of different media outlets. This is why some people choose to skip news about violence or simply turn off the TV for their mental health. It is a challenge for every storyteller to encourage people to listen and realize the state of the country, wherever they live, and to ensure that their readers will not be left with fear but with a heart that yearns to fight against injustices.

It was a Friday night filled with human rights workers gathered for COMMUNE CONVOS:
Friday Conversation with Storytellers. I heard stories of bravery from storytellers such as Shahidul Alam, an international award-winning photojournalist from Bangladesh; Raffy Lerma, a Filipino national award-winning photojournalist known for his photos of the extrajudicial killings during Duterte’s War on Drugs campaign; and Lian Buan, a journalist from Rappler.

While I was sitting and listening to the talks at the tech’s corner, as I maneuvered the screen for Shahidul Alam’s presentation, where he showed some of his photographs as an activist-photographer, I realized that there were still more scenes my eyes need to see and my ears need to hear, and more things that I need to experience. While the conversations were going on, an inner clash was going on inside me. I believe there is a time for everything, a time to speak, and a time to be silent. Still, when the speakers shared their stories, when they were forced to be silenced, and how they used those times, I realized that silence does not mean doing nothing, but a time for reflection and strategic planning, a time to retreat and go deeper and down and a time to see new perspectives, a time to create new creative pieces to tell true stories.

A bulb lit over my head: “You may go silent, but not for nothing and not forever.”

Michel Foucault, a French philosopher, said that “truth is not outside power,” but rather truth is produced by power rooted in an external situation against which no one can stand. Foucault proposed that there is no truth without force. This power to stand against the unsettling reality in our society is everywhere; we need to do something to unleash the power that resides in everyone (Foucault, 1991).

When I listened to my fellow human rights workers share their stories about how they chose to speak the truth despite the threats whenever they wrote a news article or published their photographs about the killings, injustices, and corruption, a spark of power stirred inside me. At that moment, I realized that they are not just storytellers but truthtellers.

As a writer and storyteller, I know it is not easy to say something everyone will easily accept and understand. There will be misunderstandings, confusion, threats, and persecution ahead. However, it is priceless to know that what you write is for the sake of the greater good, driven by an inner power to speak up against all odds.

Shahidul, Raffy, and Lian often receive threats, especially from authorities, who try to discredit them because they speak the horrifying reality about their inhumane projects, propaganda, and actions by those in the position. Raffy called out those in the positions and to their critics by saying, “You must go down to see the reality.” He emphasized the critical aspect of activism: the necessity of engaging directly with the lived experiences of people to understand the truths that lie beneath the surface.

Some people may need help understanding what we stand for. Lian shared one encounter with an overseas Filipino worker who had a negative impression of protests and activism. Even after telling her first-hand stories as a journalist, the woman was still hard at her core. The conversation lasted more than an hour or two, as Lian recalls. After a while, the woman began sharing her story as an OFW and how she’s also fighting for her family. Right then, Lian realized that there are different forms of activism, and as humans, we all have this inner compassion for our fellow beings. It’s just that maybe we express activism in different ways and see the truths in various ways. She emphasized the crucial role of diversity in perception and expression. While the pursuit of truth is universal, the pathways to it are numerous, shaped by individual experiences and contexts.

Although I felt equipped with knowledge and bravery that night, it is also undeniable that there was fear. Reflecting on it, I realized that fear also plays an important role. It tells us that violence and threats are still around us, that we still value our lives, and that we are still human. Let’s face the fact that there will be moments of fear, but a truth teller will continue to choose telling stories because when he ceases to tell and write he also ceases to live. These inner feelings of fear and angst against the violence around them can be turned into power.

Whatever creative means and platforms we have, may we use them to tell the truth. Be it through art, poetry, photographs, films, theater performances, or songs—whatever it is, do it not only for the sake of passion but also for the sake of truth.

May we remember that everyone has the right to information and the right to access the truth. I believe that when everyone knows the truth, there will be no bars and chains of tyranny to stop them from telling it to others. May we always remember, no matter how cliché it may be, that the “truth will always set us free.”

After that Friday night, when all the bottles of beer were consumed and the stomachs were filled, my weary soul started to ablaze again, especially after I heard all the stories of my fellow human rights workers. The fear of being judged because of writing on behalf of all marginalized and oppressed slowly faded away. I started to write more to encourage all the people to see the reality in other frames and angles. I started to rewrite what I had thrown away and even this simple reflection is a testament to this little step of bravery.

Being a storyteller is a big thing, but it takes a different level when we strive to write to empower people by telling the truth. No matter what means or platform we have, we must always keep in mind that we must operate with the truth. We must encourage everyone to use their voices because no tyranny can prevail when everyone has the will and desire to create something for change. Change will only begin when we start to let our voices be heard. The power lies in our hands. Be a truthteller.



Foucault, M. (1991). Discipline and Punish: the birth of a prison. London Penguin.

Nasi, M., et al. (2020). Crime News Consumption and Fear of Violence: The role of Traditional Media, Social Media, and Alternative Information Sources. Sage Journals. Vol. 67 (4).

COMMUNE is a dynamic program which aims to strengthen the human rights community by providing a safe and collaborative environment anchored on social behavioral change-making.

COMMUNE also seeks to build a resilient force of human rights workers dedicated to advancing the Human Rights Sector as a whole.

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