In an ideal world, there should be nothing remarkable about the story of Ibarra “Barry” Gutierrez, Jr.
An achiever from his early days at Philippine Science High School all the way to the UP College of Law and a committed lawyer, he was granted the opportunity to pursue a Masters’ Degree in Public Interest Law from New York University (NYU). Wife and young son in tow, he left the Philippines for a two-year stint in the United States. Amidst cajoling from relatives and friends to stay on after he completed his degree, he went back to the Philippines – more committed than ever to finish where he left off.
In visa-crazy Philippines, however, with snaking lines outside the US Embassy and everyone and his mother dreaming of the Land of Milk and Honey, his is an extraordinary story indeed. For many, it is letting go of an opportunity. For Barry, it is simply standing by a life-choice.
Not that this 33-year-old lawyer treats this “life-choice” as a big deal. Forever punctuating his sentences with a hearty chuckle that is always just a little too loud and hogging the magic mike just a little longer than he should, Barry is neither the grim and determined activist nor the morose nationalist that one might imagine. He simply is someone who is truly happy to be back home – home being not only the Philippines, but also, a small unit at a housing project inside the UP, a teaching job in the College of Law , and a law practice dedicated to poor and the marginalized.
To refute allegations from well-meaning people that he and people like him are simply being foolish, Barry came up with an email that he sent to friends. Such was the power of this email that it was circulated heavily, even landing in national newspapers. In this email, Barry expounds: “”Neither do I believe that the United States is such a wonderful place to live and raise a family in. This is a country that spends billions on law enforcement and “homeland security,” but where almost no one feels safe in their own home. This is a nation with the best medical facilities in the world, but where without health insurance you cannot even get a splinter removed. This is the land of the free, at least until the government starts suspecting you are a terrorist.”
In AKBAYAN where Barry is legal counsel and in the UP Institute of Human Rights where he is director, these principles are put to good use – and find good company amidst like-minded individuals who believe in the same thing. And for Barry, that is the entire point.
He is not THE bright and shining example for other people to emulate. He is but one example of a person daring to make the unpopular choice, daring to make a difference amidst despair and desperation.
And doing so at home. Happily.