#CourageON

Activists urge Filipinos to fight back vs efforts to undermine dissent

Waya Lao
Activists urge Filipinos to fight back vs efforts to undermine dissent

LESSONS. Environmental activists tackle the findings of the 2021 Global Witness report and the ways we can protect communities and democracy during the #CourageON show on September 25.

Rappler video screenshot

Grassroots activists and Martial Law survivors say it's all the more important for people to speak up in the face of historical revisionism, red-tagging, and militarization

How can we prevent history from repeating itself? We can start with engaging with our peers and our communities. 

Grassroots activists and Martial Law survivors expressed this sentiment during the fifth episode of MovePH’s “#CourageON: Tumindig,makialam, kumilos” community show in partnership with Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment on Saturday, September 25. 

To commemorate the 49th anniversary of Martial Law and glean learnings to further defend democracy, the #CourageON community show tackled the 2021 Global Witness report and the parallels between authoritarian leaders Ferdinand Marcos and Rodrigo Duterte.

Several activists and Martial Law survivors echoed concerns of militarization and efforts to undermine dissent, as well as their impact on local communities. Just recently, the 2021 Global Witness report cited the Philippines as the deadliest country for land defenders in Asia for the eighth straight year.

Environmental watchdog Global Witness said that at the height of the pandemic, non-lethal threats against land defenders persisted, such as arrests, smear campaigns, and non-lethal attacks. Among the incidents cited in the Philippines was the Tumandok massacre, where nine indigenous people were killed in Panay Island.

According to Masungi Georeserve Foundation project officer Ann Dumaliang, it is difficult to monitor killings and violations in forests as there is little to no law enforcement easily available in remote areas in the country.  With this problem, the number of documented killings from the Global Witness report may not completely capture the reality on the ground. 

“When it comes to enforcement, it becomes reactive instead of preventive. Instead of preventing them as early as possible from entering illegally, a commotion only happens when someone gets hit, when someone dies. These crimes are systemic, organized crimes. They’re syndicated activities that require monitoring from agencies,” Dumaliang said in a mix of Filipino and English.

Impacts on communities

Dumaliang added how there are instances that land speculators – those who survey and acquire undeveloped land for commercial exploitation – were even linked to military and police officers, making it difficult for people on the ground to speak up and take action.

Local communities ang pinakadehado dahil sila ‘yung firsthand nakakaranas nang ganitong epekto. Napakaraming mga lugar na dahil doon sa matinding pagpasok ng project at sila ang nag o-oppose, nagreresulta ng malaking pag-atake sa kanila…. Sinasabi na nagdudulot ng kabutihan ang mga proyekto pero sa aktwal, nagdudulot ito ng pagkawala lalo ng basic needs nila,” added Lia Mai Torres, executive director of Center for Environment Concerns. 

(Local communities are most vulnerable because they experience the effects firsthand. There are many places where those opposing the aggressive entry of projects result in serious attacks on the people…. People often say these projects are for development but in actuality, these further erode people’s basic needs.)

Cordillera People’s Alliance chairperson Windel Bolinget shared how the police issued a shoot-to-kill order against him if he resisted arrest over what he called a fabricated murder complaint. A court in Tagum City, Davao del Norte, later dismissed the complaint against him and five other activists after prosecutors reinvestigated the case.

Bolinget is also among the petitioners against the anti-terror law, and was included in the initial list of hundreds of personalities that the Duterte government had asked a court to declare as terrorists. His name was later removed from that list.

Due to efforts to discredit dissenters and scare communities into silence, activists and Martial Law survivors shared that people may have misconceptions about activism and speaking up. They likened the current situation to Martial Law under the late Ferdinand Marcos where the opposition was targeted to intimidate those who dare question wrongdoing in government.

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Aside from pronouncements from the President, University of the Philippines Visayas College of Arts and Sciences Student Council chairperson Philippe Hiñosa also brought up how academic materials may be used to allow historical revisionism or discourage dissent among students, and highlighted the need to review these.

He said it’s just as important to educate ourselves, sharing how he identified as a Marcos apologist when he was younger because of his father’s influence.

“’Yung primary factor diyan is our social conditions. Underprivileged Filipinos cling to the glossy promises [of Marcos] kasi uhaw tayo for genuine change. But if you ask me kung nakalimutan ba ng katulad ko na kabataan ang ating kasaysayan? I would say we have not forgotten; we are only misremembering our past. We do remember it, but we do not remember it quite correctly,” Hiñosa added. 

(The primary factor here is our social conditions. Underprivileged Filipinos cling to the glossy promises [of Marcos] because we are thirsty for change. But if you ask me if we have forgotten history? I would say we have not forgotten; we are only misremembering our past. We do remember it, but we do not remember it quite correctly.) 

What can Filipinos do?

Grassroots activists and Martial Law survivors emphasized the need for people to speak up and spark conversations around issues, despite efforts to undermine dissent.

Nakakatakot pero hindi ka dapat matakot because they do this repression precisely para takutin ang mga tao na huwag kumilos (It’s frightening but it shouldn’t scare you because they do this repression precisely to stop people from taking action)…. Everything begins with the courage to speak the truth and eventually the courage to act on what the truth is telling you to do,” said Lidy Nacpil, vice president of Freedom from Debt Coalition and widow of student leader Lean Alejandro who was among those who fought Marcos’ Martial Law.

Theater-maker and director Issa Manalo Lopez, whose parents are Martial Law activists, highlighted how art can be used as a platform to expose the injustices happening in the country. 

“When people connect to you emotionally, that is when they fully understand what it is that you’re saying,” Lopez said. 

As Filipinos band together to bring down conversations to the community, this can help them make informed decisions in the upcoming 2022 elections as well.

The 2022 elections [are] very near, at ang kalaban natin ay itong gobyernong Duterte na mabigat, madugo ang kasalanan [niya] sa kalikasan, sa ating karapatang pantao. So dapat ang mangyari dito, the environmental issues and human rights should be a priority discourse in the upcoming 2022 elections,” Bolinget said.  

(The 2022 elections are very near, and our enemy here is Duterte’s government which committed grave and bloody sins against the environment and human rights. What should happen is that environmental issues and human rights should be a priority discourse in the upcoming 2022 elections.)

Alalahanin natin na sa harap ng kalupitan ng Batas Militar, nagtagumpay ang sambayanan na mapabagsak ang diktadura. So sa sama-samang pagkilos, kaya ng sambayanan na biguin ang isa pa uling diktadura,” said Etel Dionisio said, a Martial Law survivor and First Quarter Storm Movement national council member.

(Let us remember that in the face of the atrocities of Martial Law, the people succeeded in overthrowing the dictatorship. So by acting together, the people will still be able to overthrow another dictatorship.)

The #CourageON community show featured representatives from Masungi Georeserve Foundation, Center for Environment Concerns, Defend Panay, Cordillera People’s Alliance, University of the Philippines Visayas College of Arts and Sciences Student Council, Freedom from Debt Coalition, and First Quarter Storm Movement. – Rappler.com

Waya Lao is a Rappler intern from the University of the Philippines Diliman. She is a senior taking up a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philippine Studies major in Creative Writing and Anthropology.

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