INTERVIEW | Jofer Santos
Vocalist and Animal Rights Activist
Ascend From Ruins [Philippines]
We’ve had a great bunch of people we’ve interviewed the past couple of years. We try to go deeper than the typical band interviews about music being released where the same old tired questions get asked, and the same old tired answers get typed up.
One of our favorite interviews we’ve conducted was with the beautiful transgender woman Mia Priest. That interview, without a doubt, is a MUST read: https://uniteasia.org/interview-identify-woman-proud-transwoman-mia-priest-speaks-us/
Today we get to continue down the awareness train by putting some text together for our bud Jofer Santos out of the Philippines who not only fronts the band Ascend From Ruins, but is a passionate and dedicated fighter for the rights of all animals. He is an active member of the community of people who travel up and down the Philippines spreading the message and awareness for this amazing cause.
Check out some words of inspiration, videos and photos below. We’ve also included direct links to all the vegan/vegetarian restaurants/food delivery services he mentions below.
What’s up Jofer! Before we get into your politics about animal rights – let’s get some information about yourself. Where you’re from and how you got into hardcore/punk.
My name is Jofer Santos, an animal rights activist and vocalist for the metal band Ascend From Ruins (also the vocalist of Last Lie Told that disbanded back in 2011). I was born and raised in the province of Rizal in the Philippines. When I was 12 years old, my older brother started showing and lending me his cassette tapes, from metal to hardcore and punk and I got hooked into these forms of music instantly. The passion and aggressiveness behind the lyrics and music really got me even at a very young age. I started my first band in high school when I was 14 but took the whole band thing seriously in 2005, so I’ve been part of the local underground scene for nearly 14 years now.
What were some of the early bands that really got you hooked though?
Bands like At the Gates, Carcass, In Flames, Metallica, Testament, Darkest Hour. Mostly metal bands, but Earth Crisis will always be one of my favorite bands ever. Their message about veganism and animal liberation really hit me hard and made so much sense to me. I’m also a huge fan of Silverchair, Deftones and Thursday as well.
Oh nice! You went the route that most of us Asian hardcore kids – started with metal and then made the transition. Do you remember the first time you heard Earth Crisis? What was that moment like and what was it that clicked with you?
I remember hearing them for the first time in 2001, I believe. It was through their Forever True DVD (which is also where I first heard the word “vegan”) and their HellFest last show. I was blown away by the intensity of the band and how Karl Buechner connected with the crowd and how he delivered his/their message before and after playing a song. I’m a metalhead who just really loves Earth Crisis. Haha…
And then was Earth Crisis the gateway band for you in terms of getting into more socio/political music?
Yes. Most definitely. It was simply because their lyrics/message would make you question things around you and then would fuel you to create positive, meaningful and impactful change in this world. They’re one of the main reasons why I became vegan and why I fight for Animal Liberation.
So tell us your journey in becoming vegetarian/vegan.
I became vegan in 2010 (I was vegetarian for 2 years beforehand) mainly for ethical and moral reasons. I did a lot of research and watched so many undercover footage on how animals are abused, tortured and killed inside slaughterhouses, factory farms, dairy farms, egg farms, vivisection laboratories and other animal abuse facilities/places. It just broke my heart after seeing how these poor innocent animals are treated all in the name of profit, selfishness and greed. It pissed me off (still does) and I knew I had to do something to not be a part of the oppression of animals anymore, which is by going vegan.
Prior to becoming vegetarian, while you were still a kid, did you already have an inclination towards eating veg over meat? What was it that set you off down this path to want to do all this research?
Not really. I was raised in a family that likes eating meat-heavy dishes. I wasn’t really a huge fan of fruits and veggies, until I decided to stop consuming animal products and by-products anymore. I was amazed how we could make delicious meals out of just plant-sourced ingredients. I came across these vegan/vegetarian hardcore/metal musicians interviews online, stating why they stopped eating meat, dairy, eggs etc. and why they went vegan. I began researching the very next day and the rest is history.
Once you decided to become vegetarian/vegan what was your family’s response?
They were surprised especially my nanay (mother). Haha… She got a little mad at first, knowing I wouldn’t eat her cooked meals anymore. Though, as time passed by, they got used to my way of life and they respect it.
And within the community that you live in – how easy has it been to be meat free?
It’s quite easy now. I mean compared to 8-10 years ago, I was the only vegan I knew in my area and only had very few vegan friends online. Vegan restaurants are all over the metro area now and in nearby provinces and many cafes/restaurants also offer vegan options. And plenty of traditional Filipino delicacies are already vegan, like taho, turon, bananaque and among others. And there’s always the public markets to buy your vegetables and fruits from.
Since you’ve been at it you must’ve seen a lot of changes, and especially a lot of minds being opened. As you continue down this path – it seems you’ve gotten even more involved in educating the masses. What are your projects or things you’re out there doing to spread the message?
Currently, I’m more focused on travelling to other parts of the country to help local vegans get started with their activism. The more vegans spreading the message, the better. In Manila, the vegan/animal rights community is getting bigger and stronger. That’s why I made the decision to advance our advocacy throughout the Philippines (and the rest of the world, of course). I actually just got back from Davao City after staying there for over a month. I did media interviews and organized vegan outreach and street activism events at public parks and universities/colleges with the help of its local vegans. Now, they’re organizing and setting up their own activism events without my guidance, which is an awesome thing. That trip was a great learning experience for me and I plan to keep on doing the same thing and improve my activism at the same time. Aside from those projects, I’m also one of the organizers of the annual Animal Rights March in the Philippines.
As you’re out there traveling do you sense change? Are people open to trying a new lifestyle? Are they interested in this for health reasons for animal rights? Because for you the catalyst was more about protecting the lives of animals correct?
I certainly do. More and more people are finally opening their eyes and making the connection. People are now realizing that animals are citizens of this planet, too, that deserve love, respect, kindness and freedom. I’d say it’s a mix, some are interested due to health and environmental reasons, some are interested because they don’t want to support animal cruelty anymore. However, I noticed that the younger generation is really interested in going vegan because of the latter reason. As an animal rights activist, I always make clear to people that veganism is about justice and freedom to all animals, and then I explain to them the benefits of it on the environment and humankind.
It’s safe to say that heavy music introduced me to my life’s work/purpose.
In your research, what are some of the things that are happening to animals within the Philippines?
The practice that animal agriculture industry do to animals are basically almost identical anywhere in the world. They often breed animals like pigs, cows and chickens by doing artificial insemination to meet the demands as fast as they can. They put chickens on tiny cages, where they’re cramped into without having the ability to move their bodies or even spread their wings and without access from food and water for days. Pigs and cows are often kick and punch by workers because they’re “only” animals. And the animals are then transport to finally get slaughtered for meat. Even the free-range and “humane” meat don’t make any sense, since the right of an animal to live is still taken away from him/her. Antibiotics are also given to fatten up the animals, which we eventually ingest and absorb, too, after eating the meat. The usual animal exploitation practices such as animal testing, zoos/marine parks, bull fighting and horse carriages (where horses are treated as machine) to name a few happen in the Philippines as well. And if these industries would do the same cruelty to cats and dogs, we’d be all furious.
If people wanted to do more research about a vegan lifestyle, can you share any links that are more Philippines based?
There’s no particular links I could share but I would definitely recommend joining this vegan support group called Manila Vegans on Facebook. It only started in 2014 but has now 30k members and counting. MV has helped so many people (Filipinos and foreigners alike) with their vegan journey. They even offer a 1-month vegan challenge, where they’ll give you an online mentor/coach all for free. Anything you would like to know about veganism, you could basically find it in that group.
In terms of restaurants, can you share a list of your favorite restaurants in the places you’ve traveled around the Philippines?
There are plenty of vegan restaurants in Metro Manila including my favorite Greenery Kitchen that serves mostly filipino dishes, Greenbar, Two Chickpeas, Wabi-Sabi, Cosmic, Veggiezen, Green Light Katipunan, Greens Spot, Greens Resto, Indulge (for vegan pizzas), The Vegetarian Kitchen, Likha Diwa, Try Vegan and the list goes on and on.
In Calabarzon region, there’s Reasons (owned by Odessa from Choke Cocoi), Daniel’s Choice and Vegood. In Central Luzon region, there’s The Green Jar and Health Wise. In the summer capital Baguio, there’s Ahs Wes. In Cebu, Lun Haw and Planet Veggies.
When you’re in Cagayan de Oro, make sure to visit Buen Provecho Cafe. in Davao you’ll find this awesome cafe called The Vegan Dinosaur, together with Vegan Hygienic Foodhaus and Golden Vegetarian Eatery that serves super affordable vegan food.
And in General Santos you’ll find Elpi Vegan Resto.
There are also a good amount vegan food delivery services in Metro Manila, like Good Food Vegetarian and Katha, and lastly, there’s Good Food Sundays where different vegan businesses gather to serve vegan foods and goodies from delis, sandwiches, cheeses, mayos, dips to ice creams, cakes and other vegan treats. They’re so many and it’s just impossible for me to name each and every one of them.
Any final message?
I would like to highlight that going/staying vegan is easy and that us humans should extend our circle of compassion to all animals, not just cats and dogs. And of course, that heavy music is just so powerful and it indeed introduced me to my life’s work/purpose.
What are some bands and animal rights organizations in the Philippines that you’d like to highlight?
I honestly don’t know any all-vegan members bands here in the Philippines. But I know some vegan musicians playing in metal and hardcore bands. As for animal rights organizations, I would like to highlight Metro Manila Animal Save and the hardwork and dedication of activists who constantly do vegan education, street activism, demonstrations, protests and animal rescue.