New Internationalist

The song the G20 doesn’t want to hear

In the darkness, with only a flicker of a candle, I see Jess Santiago strumming his guitar. He has long grey hair. He is wearing glasses and a simple loose brown shirt. The soft light conceals his wrinkles, but not the defiance in his eyes.  

He starts to sing with all of his soul, as he always does, and, as everyone who hears him, I am moved.

I am moved not just by the voice that has reverberated around the globe, but by every word in a song he has woven on the fabric of the struggles of ordinary people.

Jess Santiago, more fondly known as Koyang Jess to his friends and comrades, is a respected Filipino musician, artist, songwriter and Asian public intellectual.

Jess Santiago. Photo by Sepbluesman.

I am watching a short video of him produced by Red Ants Production. It was ‘made to defy and circumvent his deportation and that of four other Filipino activists’ by the South Korean government on 6 November 2010.

Song G20 does not want to hear from jl bugoy on Vimeo.

Santiago went to South Korea to attend the parallel People’s Conference on the G20 Summit, a huge gathering of giant economies, to be held on 11-12 November.

But at the airport, Santiago and four other activists – Joseph Purugganan of Focus on the Global South, Lorena Macabuag of Migrant Forum in Asia, Joshua Mata of the Alliance of Progressive Labor and Roger Soluta of the Kilusang Mayo Uno – were denied entry to South Korea, held for more than two hours and deported back to Manila on the same day.

For a song, indeed, Santiago was barred from entering Seoul. It was a short, soulful song that the G20, a group of the world’s most powerful nations, did not want to hear.

‘I wonder why the South Korean government and the G20 prevented me from playing this song in Seoul. It is quite ironic that the G20, a grouping of powerful and influential nations, would be afraid of songs,’ Santiago says in the video.

Santiago’s Filipino version of Achim Iseul (The Morning Dew) by South Korean songwriter Kim Minggi is the song that the G20 did not want to hear:

Sleepless night
grass wet with dew
more beautiful than pearls
morning dew

Sorrow clings to my heart
like morning dew
and morning on the hill
teaches me to smile
over the graveyard
the sun is a rising flame
the scorching heat
tests my resolve

I will go
to that wild field
I will throw away all sorrow
I will go

(English translation by Sanghee Lee)

Santiago hopes that through the video, he can ‘convey my message of peace and solidarity to all of those gathered in Seoul, challenging the G20 and resisting policies that threaten the lives of ordinary peoples. I also hope that a lot more people will be able to hear and appreciate these songs and be inspired to dream of and work towards a more just and humane world.’

He dreams that someday, he will ‘be given the chance to play his songs in Seoul and eat kimchi with friends and comrades’.

Koyang Jess will wait for this moment and he will not tire of waiting – because over the graveyard the sun, indeed, is a rising flame.

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  1. #1 gcortazar 12 Nov 10

    Ma'am Iris, this piece on Koyang Jess inspires me to keep writing, and to never give up on that flame, no matter how low it may burn at times. I saw him perform a few times, and those few times were enough to inspire me to keep walking the path that so few dare to tread.

    Writers like you help in keeping that fire alive. Keep it up!

  2. #2 Miya 12 Nov 10


    Last two days of G20 being held in Korea made whole country in a festival mood to think about our country is becoming a real developing and powerful country... On media, we did not see the other side of G20 much.
    I did not know that Jess Santiago was barred from entering Seoul. Gosh... This video makes me think about G20 again.

  3. #3 Iris Gonzales 14 Nov 10


    Thank you for visiting The New Internationalist! Let's keep on writing so that stories such as that of Koyang Jess and the rest of the group's deportation would be heard.

  4. #4 Iris Gonzales 14 Nov 10


    Thanks for reading, too. Yes, what happened to Jess Santiago and the group was really sad. This is the other side that needs to be heard. Do share their story. Thank you!

  5. #5 michelleremo 14 Nov 10

    The G20 has a lot of things it doesn't wanna hear. Even members seem only pretending to hear each other's concerns during the meetings. Every time country representatives get back to their home countries, whatever common good discussed in the meetings would seem to be forgotten.

  6. #6 Iris Gonzales 15 Nov 10


    Thank you for your comment. You must have had quite an experience covering such global meetings. Very valid points raised!

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About the author

Iris Gonzales a New Internationalist contributor

Iris Cecilia Gonzales is a Filipino journalist and blogger. At present, she covers economic news for a Manila broadsheet, but she also writes other stories here and there. She has been blogging since 2004 on various issues including women and children and human rights. She is among the winners in the TH!NK 3 global blogging competition organized by the Netherlands-based European Journalism Centre.

You may email her at [email protected]

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