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MANILA, Philippines – Protesters gathered at Boy Scout Circle, Quezon City on Monday, June 5, to call for accountability and urge Filipinos to learn from the Tiananmen Square incident of 1989.
The protest was led by Benjamin Alvero from the Kalipunan ng mga Kilusang Masa (Kalipunan) coalition to commemorate the 34th anniversary of the massacre on Sunday, June 4.
“Kung sa Tsina nagkaroon tayo ng Tiananmen Square noong 1989, sa Pilipinas naman tayo ay nakaranas sa deka-dekada ng Batas Militar… Saang kontinente naman nanggaling, pare-pareho ang panawagan: ang karapatan na mabuhay ng mapayapa, ang karapatan na mabuhay ng may dignidad,” Alvero said.
(If China had the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, the Philippines experienced decades of Martial Law. Whatever continent you come from, we all have the same call: the right to live peacefully, and the right to live with dignity.)
The Chinese student protesters were violently dispersed by state forces on June 4, 1989, in an effort to suppress the pro-democracy movement that began to take shape.
Members of the Bagong Silangan Youth reenacted the incident through tableaus to better remember the protestors that had demanded democracy and justice for their own.
Roan, the lead organizer of the tableaus, said that the incident should be memorable not for the deaths on that day, but for showing the capability of the people to call for government accountability.
She adds that it’s activist movements like these that make the government hear concerns and take action. “Ang mga services na meron tayo ngayon, hindi po ‘yan binibigay ng libre. ‘Yan ay binibigay ng gobyerno dahil may mga tao o mamamayang nangangailangan nito (The services that we have today did not come for free. They were given by the government because the people needed them),” she said.
Protests have been an important tool used by Filipinos to voice demands and concerns. The EDSA revolution is a well-known example of protests at work, which led to a peaceful ouster of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1986.
In an interview, Alvarez compared the Tiananmen Square incident to the EDSA revolution, seeing them as two possible outcomes for both peaceful protests. “In many ways, we can look at Tiananmen as what could have happened in Manila during our own revolution. What could have happened had the army remained loyal to the Marcos regime?” he asked.
Any mention or reference to government uprisings, especially in relation to the Tiananmen Square incident in China is heavily censored, under the government-controlled “Great Firewall of China.”
Memorials of the incident have always been popular in Hong Kong, but since the passing of a restrictive national security law in 2020, any form of dissent or protest in the city-state has been immediately quashed.
Kalipunan member Roman Dastas hopes that by holding these commemorations, any incidents like the one in Tiananmen 34 years ago will not happen again, especially in the Philippines:
“Bagamat ito ay nangyari na dito sa Pilipinas nung panahon ng Martial Law, ayaw namin na mangyari ito sa susunod na panahon…. Hindi na ito mauulit sa mga manggagawa, sa kabataan, sa lahat ng kumikilos para sa kalayaan, katarungan, kapayapaan ng ating bansa,” he said.
(Despite that this already happened in the Philippines during Martial Law, we do not want this to happen in the future…. This will not happen again to workers, the youth, to all who take action for our country’s freedom, justice, and peace.)
Dastas also called for the release of 67-year-old activist Alexandra Wong, who was arrested along with 20 other protestors last June 4 for “breaching public peace” in Hong Kong. (READ: Tiananmen vigils shift overseas as Hong Kong falls silent)
For Alvero, memory is a lesson both China and the Philippines can learn from, as work toward democratization is “unfinished” for both countries.
He also sees memory as something the present can learn from, as it allows others to see how movements were started in the past.
“I think it’s important to realize that we are not starting from scratch…. In many cases in these incidents of mass movements, they draw from past experiences, either through metaphors, references, and even strategies,” he said.
Alvero also said that people should realize that the citizens hold the power of change, and not the government. “There’s a reason why the memory of Tiananmen Square is being forcefully erased in the history books in China and by the Chinese government… authoritarian governments are afraid of their own shadows,” he said.
“They’re afraid of ghosts, because that ghost can animate movements today.” – Rappler.com