Manila, Philippines—Music lovers braved hours in traffic just to see Irish rock band U2, who performed their very first concert at the Philippine Arena on Wednesday night, December 11.
Some fans who were only expecting the musicians to bring on the music were shocked at the politically-charged atmosphere of the night, with fans who had seen the concert in other Asian countries saying that they had not witnessed this in the recent legs of the tour in Singapore and Tokyo.
They should have been forewarned, however, by the press conference with the band the day before, wherein frontman Bono had a “soft message” for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
At a press conference with the Philippine Red Cross to launch an initiative that would supply blood to remote areas via drone on December 10, Bono said, “Human rights are critical. I would just say you can’t compromise on human rights and that’s my soft message to the president.”
The band’s message was anything but soft at the concert itself, where Bono told a crowd of over 40,000, “Human rights churn out human wrongs, that’s a beautiful day. When sisters around the world go to school with their brothers, that’s a beautiful day. When journalists don’t have to worry about what they write, that’s a beautiful day. When women of the world unite to rewrite history as herstory, that is a beautiful day.”
As the band played its hit “Ultraviolet,” they honored women game-changers from all over the world, especially Filipino women, starting from journalist Maria Ressa, a well-known critic of President Duterte.
This did not go over well with fans of the president, who still enjoys very strong support.
At the mention of Ms Ressa, some booed and jeered, while others cheered and clapped.
“Women who light up history, your own Maria Ressa, is an incredible woman. But the extraordinary thing is, even Maria will say it’s not about individuals. It’s about collective action. It’s about social movements. And so then all of you can grow up to be the President or Maria Ressa,” Bono said.
All through the night, Bono had drawn attention to journalists, “the truth-tellers” as he called them, highlighting the need for journalists to be safe as they do their work.
The band has been honoring women throughout the Joshua Tree 2019 tour. At their last leg before coming to the Philippines, South Korea, they paid tribute to Kim Jung Sook, the country’s first lady; Na Hye Sok,a feminist painter, and even Sulli, the K-Pop singer-actress who died of suicide two months ago.
While some were unhappy with Bono’s tribute to Filipino women, one of whom is a senator who is among President Duterte’s supporters, others found the tribute to be incredibly moving.
That moment when U2 dedicates an entire song to women empowerment while broadcasting photos of activists around the world and I start SOBBING.
“When women of the world get to rewrite history as HERstory, it’s a Beautiful Day.”#U2Manila
— elliot (@ellimir) December 11, 2019