‘Kolateral’ rages against the ‘drug war’ – here’s why you need to listen

Joseph Angan

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‘Kolateral’ rages against the ‘drug war’ – here’s why you need to listen
What happens when data and art channel their anger towards a deadly 'drug war?' 'Kolateral'

This world is noisy. Everyone has something to say all at the same time and it’s easy to just tune out. But once in a while, something catches your ear. And as you start listening to it – and we mean conscious listening – it can be worth your while.

Kolateral (Collateral) attempts to break through the noise.

Created by the collective Sandata (in the Filipino language, it literally means weapon), an NGO who uses data and analytics to understand and resist the Duterte Administration’s campaign against illegal drugs, colloquially known as the “drug war.”

The 12-track album is a use of art for protest and activism. In it, problems are unpacked, their causes identified, and in the end, Sandata proposes solutions.

Its first track “Makinarya (Machinery) opens strong and welcomes listeners to a Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte. It lays out how his machinery and how his word has become – or is – law (ang aking salita ang magiging armas; ang aking salita ang magiging batas [my words are their weapons, my word becomes law]). 


The album proceeds to dissect this war’s effects and characters involved, where the poor and vulnerable are easy targets by those in power. Boy tells the story of children on the street trying to make ends meet, but end up accused of petty crimes and as casualties. “Distansya” (Distance) introduces an OFW sacrificing her motherhood by taking care of other children in a far land, while her own live in a new and dangerous society. 

Papag” is set on a literal papag (sleeping mat) used by a homeless family as their home. They too end up as victims just because they’re out on the street. Government’s apathy and greed felt by the people is illustrated in “Giyera na Bulag” (Blind War). Poor people are being killed to further the President’s agenda, and for the healthy payouts for each kill. It’s gotten to the point where the killers don’t even care who they kill. The line, “Giyera na bulag,ano bang pangalan ko?” (Blind war, what is my name?) repeats through its chorus and ends with repetitions of “Mga tao rin kami.” (We’re also human.)

In “Hawak (Hold) the album turns its attention to the war’s inadvertent victims: children orphaned by the killings. Taking the persona of the orphans, it is a song that asks many difficult questions. 

Pagususma (Summary) continues the search for answers, and begs to make sense of all of the violence. In in, BLKD literally counts down the numbers of the drug war – the promises made, the “operations” carried out, and the death toll (Kung isang bangkay pa lang, ‘di ba dapat sobra na [Isn’t one death along too much]?) that does not want to stop rising. Angryily (and rightfully so), the song makes explicit the hypocricy of the drug war: that a campaign that promises to “save” the poor victimizes the poorest and most vulnerable. (Pangako kilo-kilo, tinitira piso-piso.” [Big things promised, but it’s the small fry they target]). 

The two next songs put a face to the perpetrators: “Neo-Manila and “Parasitikong Abusado (Abusive Parasites). “Neo-Manila” begins with a sound clip of no less than Duterte himself boasting about how hands on he was as Davao mayor. “I used to do it personally. And I go around Davao,” says the president. 

The song then segues into what happens in too many barangays around the Philippines – how killers and persons of authority allegedly conspire in the name of the drug war. Sometimes, the lines apparently blur (“…coordinated ang barangay, ang CCTV nakapatay [The village leaders coordinate, CCTV’s are shut off)]. The song ends with another voice clip – of a supposed gun man saying he isn’t afraid to kill because both the police and higher ups he does not name have his back. 

Parasitikong Abusado” sets its target on people at the top profiting off the war’s corrupt nature, “Isang malaking negosyo ang pasismo ng gobyerno (Government fascism is one big business).”

By now, the album is now done laying out the problem and is ready to call for action.

Walang Maiiwan” (No One Left Behind) is an empowering anthem. It calls for unity among the poor to resist, “Walang maiiwan, walang kolateral (No one left behind, no one as collateral).”

Stand By” picks up the tempo and is more assertive, calling on tambays (literally, people who idle around and do nothing. Locally, it can refer to the underemployed and unemployed). “Laban mga tambay! Lagpasan ang hamon ng buhay!” (Fight back! Get past through life’s challenges!)

Kami na naman ang ginawang palusot ng gobyerno, bakit palaging mahihirap ang nagiging biktima ninyo (Again, we’re the scapegoats, why are you only targeting the poor)?” BLKD, Calix, and WYP explain in simple terms the complexity of the issue – the lack of opportunities and proper urban leisure space are the reasons why tambays are out on the streets.

Tambay nga, dahil walang magawa (We’re tambays because there’s nothing to do)” and “Nasaan ang mga parke at silid-aklatan mga abot-kayang tambayan ng taongbayan (Where are the parks and libraries, the proper leisure spaces for the masses)?”

The last song, “Sandata,” feels like a bonus track. It is a cypher where multiple rappers take turns rapping about whatever they want. Noteably, it’s the only track where President Duterte is mentioned explicitly. It’s no holds barred where the artists use the best weapon or sandata at their disposal: their words, their art, their craft. 

Kolateral is a heavy piece of work. Its lyrics are visual and explicit – all without using a single cuss word. Eerie excerpts from speeches by Duterte and interviews with those on the ground are scattered throughout the album, driving home the album’s point: this is reality. Data from the drug war provide a clearer – and quantitative – picture of how bad the situation really is. 

The anger in each and every song is clear – especially when the tempo and fast and even when it’s slow. 

You can feel anger with the uptempo pace of most songs. Coming one after another, these can tire you out. The slower songs, “Distansya” and “Hawak,” may seem like breaks but are filled with despair and are cries for help. 

Processing Kolateral requires significant mental space – the work, effort, and detail its makers put into it shines through both its complexity and simplicity.

To listen and appreciate Kolateral, one has to truly listen – consciously and thoughtfully. Doing otherwise is a disservice. Doing otherwise means Kolateral ends up like the tens of thousands of victims in Duterte’s “drug war” – yet another screaming voice fading into the noise.  — Rappler.com

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