Project BUSAL: [un]Masking Human Rights Abuses in the Time of COVID-19 seeks a simple but powerful way to protect free speech and free expression by stitching the common sentiments of Filipinos on “statements masks.”
Three sisters launched this project to ensure that Filipinos will not be gagged in the middle of a pandemic. It was born out of a desire to find creative ways to speak out and express dissent while observing health protocols.
The name is a play on words. BUSAL is Filipino for “gag”, “muzzle” or “stifle.” Mask is another term for “hide” while unmasking means “uncovering” and “exposing.”
We know it is difficult to speak with a face mask on, but we feel it is harder to speak out when the state’s response to an outbreak is by silencing the people.
The list goes on.
Since mass gathering are banned mass under our current setup, the BUSAL community hopes to fill the gaps by enabling people to wear their statement and walk their protest.
The cloth masks we produce are not meant to provide protection against coronavirus. But we hope they can protect our voices against those who wish to silence us.
BUSAL is made of canvas cloth and red elastic.
The canvas, as our writing board, represents the mouth. The elastics are meant to be a visual representation of red ears, a play on the Filipino phrase “nagpanting ang tenga” meaning angered or annoyed.
Starting June 21, BUSAL masks will be sewn by Project SOW or Solidarity with Orphans and Widows, a community in Payatas whose loved ones were victims of extrajudicial killings (EJKs). Through this, the BUSAL community can help and support people whose lives were disrupted by human rights abuses.
The statements reflecting the community’s stand on issues affecting the country and the world are to be stitched by Project BUSAL.
Project BUSAL was born on June 12, 2020 as the Philippines commemorated Independence Day while reeling from the impacts of coronavirus on our lives, economy and human rights.
As our Independence Day gift to freedom-loving Filipinos, we gave away free BUSAL face masks that bore the words “MAÑANITA” and “JUNK TERROR BILL.”
MAÑANITA is meant to illustrate the unfair application of law, alluding to how a police general, who violated quarantine rules when he hosted a birthday party while Metro Manila was under a lockdown. Ordinary Filipinos, meanwhile, were being mauled and hauled off to jail for not wearing face masks or for begging in the streets because they were hungry.
JUNK TERROR BILL opposes President Duterte’s looming approval of the Anti-Terror Bill, which BUSAL believes is oppressive and subject to abuse.
BUSAL released the statement STAND WITH RAPPLER on June 15 after a Manila court convicted journalist Maria Ressa and former Rappler writer Rey Santos Jr. of cyber libel. The court decision was another blow to Philippine press freedom in the Philippines.
To celebrate the Pride Month, we came up with HAPPY PRIDE 2020 and LOVE WINS on June 26. This was our first REBREATHER.
We will stitch more statements soon.
Official announcements are made on our Instagram account @projectbusal.
BUSAL was officially launched on June 24. The date coincided with the birthday of Marcela Agoncillo, the seamstress who sewed the Philippine national flag.
Statements will be released as the need arises or whenever Project BUSAL feels our rights and freedoms are being threatened.
Public pulse will be felt through news reports, trending issues on social media and suggestions from and by our BUSAL community.
We encourage the BUSAL community to speak their minds and make suggestions.
A FREEDOM WALL will be mounted on our website and Instagram page so we can collate photos of people who wish to express their thoughts on our political climate. One of the questions we would like our community to answer is: Pilipino, bakit ka naka-Busal?
Since political and civic issues can be very heavy, Project BUSAL will issue light statement masks every 20th of the month to give people space to breathe.
For example, to celebrate June as Pride Month, we will release masks with “LOVE WINS” and “LOVE IS LOVE” statement.
These masks will be called REBREATHERS.
BUSAL received about 60 requests from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao from June 12 to June 13. To us, this proved one thing: Filipinos want to protect their freedom.
The community’s support and encouragement flooded our inbox. A pregnant woman, who couldn’t join street protests against the passage of Anti-Terror Bill, said she’d like to wear them so she could spread the word during grocery runs and hospital visits.
As of June 20, we have given away 40 free masks and we intend to give more.
Read about our advocacy here: